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20 June 2013

Wide discrepancies across Europe when it comes to trusting the law

Europeans differ widely when it comes to trusting their legal systems and believing that the police and criminal courts have a legitimate right to exercise authority, according to LSE criminologist Dr Jonathan Jackson.

Scandinavian law authorities enjoy the highest levels of respect and trust across 26 European countries, while a deep suspicion of police and courts remains entrenched in post-communist countries.

The findings are published in a paper, Trust & Legitimacy across Europe: A FIDUCIA report on comparative public attitudes towards legal authority,, based on data from a European Social Survey involving 50,800 interviews.

Lead author Dr Jonathan Jackson from LSE’s Department of Methodology and Mannheim Centre for Criminology, says the report shows that public trust in legal authorities is low in the Ukraine, Russia and Israel and some southern European countries.

Switzerland, Finland and Denmark all scored high levels of trust and legitimacy in each area, while respect for authorities dropped markedly in southern and eastern Europe, most notably in Greece, Portugal, Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Israel.

In the UK and Ireland, residents consistently rated their police and court systems well above average, although lower than the Scandinavian countries.

Levels of trust largely mirrored people’s views over whether they considered police acted fairly in exercising their authority.

In a series of questions about police efficiency, trust in the legal process, perceptions of bias and corruption, and respect for legal authorities, European citizens rated their legal institutions on a scale of 0-11.

The report is part of an EU-funded international research project called “FIDUCIA”. The team of FIDUCIA researchers – which combines lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, criminologists and policy analysts – is proposing different approaches to tackling criminal behaviours that have emerged in the last decade, including human and goods trafficking, crimes involving migration and ethnic minorities, and cybercrimes.

“The central idea behind the FIDUCIA project is that public trust and institutional legitimacy are critically important for societies,” Dr Jackson says. “Those who regard the police and criminal courts as lacking in legitimacy also express less consent to the rule of law, less willingness to cooperate with the justice system, and are more likely to break laws.”

“When taking the measure of a nation, it is important to ask how citizens view the way in which their societies operate. Do they, for instance, see their societies as generally fair or unfair? Do their country’s institutions inspire trust or suspicion? Is the system of criminal justice justified in its possession of power? “

Dr Jackson says these social indicators can help policy makers understand the shifting circumstances of life in different countries and take appropriate action.

“Economic indicators alone do not tell us enough about the health of a nation. Social indicators are critical in telling us how well a society is functioning, and whether institutions act in morally valid ways in the eyes of citizens,” Dr Jackson says.

Notes to editors

Trust and legitimacy across Europe: a FIDUCIA report on comparative public attitudes towards legal authority is a research paper drawing on data from Round 5 of the European Social Survey. It is available at

The authors are Dr Jonathan Jackson, Department of Methodology and Mannheim Centre for Criminology, LSE; Dr Jouni Kuha, Departments of Methodology and Statistics, LSE; Mike Hough, Institute of Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London; Dr Ben Bradford, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford; Dr Katrin Hohl, Department of Sociology, City University, London; Dr Monica Gerber, Department of Methodology, LSE.

19 June 2013