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Courts have long struggled to bridge the access-to-justice gap associated with in-person hearings, which makes the recent adoption of online legal proceedings potentially beneficial. Online proceedings hold promise for better access: they occur remotely, can proceed asynchronously, and often rely solely on written communication. Yet these very qualities may also undermine some of the well-established elements of procedural-justice perceptions, a primary predictor of how people view the legal system’s legitimacy. This paper examines the implications of shifting legal proceedings online for both procedural-justice and access-to-justice perceptions. It also investigates the relationship of both types of perceptions with system legitimacy, as well as the relative weight these predictors carry across litigant income levels. Drawing on online traffic court cases, we find that perceptions of procedural justice and access to justice are each separately associated with a litigant’s appraisal of system legitimacy, but among lower-income parties, access to justice is a stronger predictor, while procedural justice dominates among higher-income parties. These findings highlight the need to incorporate access-to-justice perceptions into existing models of legal legitimacy.


Courts | Law and Economics | Litigation

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