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Responsive justice: how citizens experience the justice system

23 November 2015

Cover image for Responsive justice reportThe justice system is a vital public service. It upholds our laws, defends our rights and supports our institutions. Almost half of us will use the justice system at some point in our lives. This may be as a consequence of crime, or to help solve other everyday problems with housing, debt, employment or relationships.

Yet for many of us, the justice system feels remote, confusing, intimidating and inaccessible; only 39 per cent of people believe our justice system works well for citizens. People using the justice system, often through no choice of their own, find themselves dependent on professionals and specialists to make sense of their options and help them navigate the process.

Responsive justice: how citizens experience the justice system [ 2.7 mb] uses new evidence from the frontline of local Citizens Advice, the Witness Service, and new online polling of adults in England and Wales to explore the public’s perception and experience of the justice system.

We find that while most people value the justice system and would expect to be treated with respect, the majority of the public also think it should be easier for people who haven't broken the law to solve their problems and get support.

We found people would worry about using the justice system for a number of reasons:

  • Firstly, many people have real concerns about the amount of support and advice available to help them through the justice system. 72 per cent of people agree that trying to solve their problems might not be worth the financial and emotional cost.
  • Secondly, user experience is leaving a bad feeling: one in five people who have been involved in courts say they came out with a worse opinion of them than when they started.
  • Thirdly, only 48 per cent of people believe that if they had to go to court, their outcome would be fair.

We need a justice system that works well for citizens, and a responsive justice system that takes people’s needs into consideration. This means a public service that provides support, information and advice to help people to understand their options and access resolution. It should provide and promote alternatives to court and make them easier to access. It should build on the positive expectations people have about the way they’ll be treated to ensure as many people as possible leave the justice system with their problems resolved, and a more positive opinion about the process by which they did it.

Citizens Advice is beginning a programme of work exploring people’s experiences of the justice system. This report is just one step in better understanding citizens’ needs. Future work will explore more deeply the issues that citizens face when trying to access resolution or justice in our courts.