The United States have one of the most robust civil justice systems in the world. However, the system is far from perfect. The ability to achieve justice is impacted by several factors including wealth, access, complexity, efficiency, accountability, and transparency. Our civil justice system is a complex, inefficient machine bogged down with large case numbers and is often staffed with overworked, and overwhelmed individuals. Combine that with lack of money to hire even a mediocre attorney and a lack of understanding of how the system works, leaves many individuals with civil issues without a voice and with a feeling of a lack of control and satisfaction. Those that do look to the courts to help them find justice in a civil case, often feel disenfranchised and experience a lack of control that can be frustrating and, potentially, demoralizing.
Take a relatively simple divorce case in which the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own. If the respective attorneys cannot guide their clients to a settlement, the case often goes to the courts for a ruling. The wait time for a court date is often several months and may be delayed several times. Once before the judge, there is little time for both parties to present their case before the judge must make a ruling. At this point, the judge has to rule based on the law with little consideration for the individual concerns of the parties involved. Regardless of the ruling, both parties most likely feel they were not given voice in the matter, and that they were not treated with dignity and respect.
Procedural justice is focused on fair processes and how people perceive the fairness of the processes. The goals of procedural justice include giving individuals a voice in the matter; treating individuals with dignity and respect; and providing a transparent, impartial process. Alternative dispute resolution systems should be designed with procedural justice as the focus. The InAccord model of mediation incorporates the goals of procedural justice.
Michele M. Davda has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Neuroscience. She taught Biomedical Science at the STEM secondary level for a decade. She is a member and committee member of the Montana Mediation Association (MTMA) and is an InAccord Mediators Without Borders certified family mediator.