What do lay people know about justice? An empirical enquiry

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When mediation places decision-making power in the hands of lay disputants it raises troubling issues. Can justice be delivered without judicial assistance? What is the effect on the legal system? And how should outcomes thus achieved be regarded? Critics have tended to answer negatively, pointing to a range of harms including individual oppression and the vanishing trial. Such views, focusing too narrowly on conformity to legal norms, overlook ordinary people's capacity for justice reasoning. A recent Scottish pilot study of small-claims mediation parties illustrates the richness and complexity of their thinking around whether, and for how much, to settle. This suggests that mediation settlements, rather than representing second-class justice, may enhance the legitimacy of the legal system. Implications for theories of justice are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-164
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Law in Context
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020


  • alternative dispute resolution
  • mediation
  • justice
  • natural law theory
  • lay people
  • empirical research


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