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Good Law Project has commissioned ground-breaking polling from YouGov to gauge the level of trust different segments of society have in the judiciary.
What the YouGov data shows is that the more you look like the archetypal judge the more confidence you have in judges: people in ‘higher’ social classes have more confidence than those in ‘lower’ social classes, older people have more confidence than younger, white people have more confidence than people of colour, straight people have more confidence than gay, able bodied people have more confidence than disabled, and the general population has more confidence than trans.
Trust in judges is lowest amongst young people, those in ‘lower’ social classes and, in particular, trans people. And judges are trusted less than teachers and doctors. But a considerable proportion of the population as a whole reports declining trust in judges – 31%. The biggest declines are with older people (still the most trusting), Leave voters, the disabled and trans people (now the least trusting). When asked why their trust has declined, Leave voters and old people point, more than other groups, to judges being soft on crime.
We think the results are important. We think they point to a need for scrutiny of why these differential levels of trust in judges exist and how they can be addressed.
Many of these different levels of confidence are present for other professions too, as the data shows. It is not our point that they are unique to judges. But what the differences do point to is a need to interrogate why it is true of judges, if the law is to maintain its moral legitimacy.
All too often, efforts to interrogate whether and how the administration of justice ‘works’ for those without social capital are suppressed by the charge that interrogating whether the administration of justice is fair undermines public confidence in the rule of law.
Public confidence in the rule of law is, of course, important. But is it more important than the law working properly and fairly? Is it so important as to shield how justice is administered from scrutiny? Whose confidence does protecting it from scrutiny promote? And, if a thing is broken or damaged, is it right to encourage people to have confidence in it?
We intend to repeat this survey on trust in the judiciary annually.
Good Law Project only exists thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size of the GB survey was 4,687 adults, and total sample size of the BAME survey was 501 adults.
Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th September – 7th October 2022. Both surveys were carried out online. All GB figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+), and all BAME figures have been weighted and are representative of all Black and Minority Ethnic adults (aged 18+).