The quality of Justice: a two-sided issue

The “quality of justice” is what citizens feel in the face of litigation, their wishes and their aspirations. Equity is the key to the concept.

A multitude of meanings

A citizen who complains about the length of proceedings, or a journalist who criticises a judgment are two examples of how the quality of justice is perceived in society. 

What do we mean by the quality of justice? The answers to this question are many and varied.

Some say it lies in the quality of judgments: they must be legally sound, logically structured and comprehensible to all.

For others the speed of the proceedings and the prompt delivery of judgment are the fundamental qualities of justice. Many more consider that treating people with humanity is a priority, as is the independence of the judiciary. The legislation in force also affects the quality of justice.

Some people argue that there is no quality of justice without equal access to justice and legal assistance. How well the judicial institution works is another frequently mentioned consideration.

And finally, there are those who contend that quality in justice goes hand in hand with the existence of alternative, extra-judicial means of settling disputes.

Essential means of guaranteeing the quality of justice

If the quality of justice depends on such a variety of factors, then it is important that everyone who plays a part in the qualitative perception of justice should bear the following considerations in mind:

1) The quality of justice is not the monopoly of the judicial apparatus but the result of procedures established to resolve litigations and disputes which are genuinely adapted to the situations concerned.

Settling disputes is often seen as the sole prerogative of the judiciary. Yet it was the lack of quality of the justice provided that led to the development of alternatives.

The quality of justice also concerns cases which are not dealt with by the judicial institution proper but by extra-judicial processes. It is better to develop alternative, more accessible means of settling disputes which are better adapted to certain situations than to settle everything through the courts. Such alternative methods can speed up the process and reduce the cost, for example.

Innovation in certain practices and the provision of suitable infrastructure for settling disputes help to determine the quality of the decisions taken.

2) The quality of justice is guaranteed by a properly organised public structure. 

The state must guarantee the real independence of the justice system. And the justice system must avoid all threats to its independence when processing cases. Good governance by the state and readiness to rethink the organisational structure can help to reach agreement in each national justice system and, subsequently, to achieve co-ordinated development at the international level.

3) The quality of justice depends on a good vision and wise management of the judicial organisation.

Justice is a service provided to citizens, offenders, victims and the different members of society in general. Every citizen involved in legal proceedings in any capacity must perceive the service provided by the justice system as a quality service. And this is possible only if the quality of the management of the different sectors of the judicial machinery (procedures, human resources, training, budget, technology, etc.) is systematically improved in a co-ordinated manner.

The quality of justice can only exist if it is also respected within the institution. Quality cannot be left to chance, but must be organised and managed to achieve efficiency and efficacy. The quality of justice is not just the result of meticulous legal work, even if this can be optimised using proper management techniques, such as ‘intervision’ or peer review. Both the state, which provides the judiciary’s operating budget, and the private individual who has to pay legal costs want the best possible value for their money.

The judicial institution must also delimit those areas where it can provide a service of the requisite quality. In other words, it must define its vision to build its future. What is its ambition and what disputes would it like to see settled by extra-judicial means?

4) There is no quality of justice without good communication and proper external supervision.

Communication between justice service providers and society requires transparency in respect of the aims pursued and the results anticipated, as well as general understanding of how it functions, in order to facilitate proper external supervision.

Permanent alignment of all the players is not possible without communication in the judicial institution concerning the desired result (quality of justice), or without links with extra-judicial means of settling disputes. At the same time, the law-makers should feel concerned by these considerations in order to implement whatever reforms may be necessary.

The ultimate aim of the quality of justice

The aim of the quality of justice is to enable citizens to invest themselves with confidence in a society which is just, both economically and socially. To improve the quality of justice is also to uphold and strengthen democracy.

Jacques Hamaide,

President of the High Council of Justice of Belgium