'No, Your Honour!' Do Judicial Reasoning Styles Influence the Degree of Acceptance of Court Rulings by the General Public?
International Journal of Procedural Law 2022/2, p. 404-426
18 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2023
Date Written: December 1, 2022
In deciding private law disputes, courts give reasons. Yet, their styles of reasoning differ: they apply different styles of narration, persuasion and argumentation. Some courts may shape their reasoning by applying a formalistic style, referring to code articles and precedents and applying logical deduction rhetoric. Others may apply a more venerable, sacral style, referring to grand principles of law and ethical considerations that are presented as inescapably leading to one right solution. Undoubtedly, such differences are steeped in legal culture and history. They may, however, fall short of convincing the general public. For this public court reasoning styles may read and sound redundantly archaic, cold, fuzzy, impenetrable or worse. As a result, in recent years legal systems have witnessed a call for a more free-spoken, deliberative style of judicial reasoning. Some suggest that such a style would offer a clearer and more palpable alternative to the unnecessarily formalistic or venerable styles. Indeed, some even argue that a deliberative style would enhance the level of approval of court decisions by the lay public. This article reviews the evidentiary basis of such claims. What evidence is there on the relationship between judicial reasoning styles and acceptance of court decisions by the general public? To answer this question, we presented a sample of the general public in the Netherlands with one of three legal cases describing a court verdict and its reasoning. We gauged the influence of reasoning style on the degree of acceptance by using one of three styles, i.e., formalistic reasoning, venerable or sacral reasoning, and deliberative reasoning. Overall, the results show that reasoning styles do not influence the degree of acceptance by the public. Rather, the key predictor of accepting court decisions appears to be the moral support one has for the outcome of the case. This humbling outcome puts the push among legal scholars for less opaque and more transparent reasoning styles into perspective.
Keywords: judicial reasoning styles, public acceptance, court decicion-making
JEL Classification: K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation