Finding the Trust: Placing Epistemic Trust in the Procedural Justice Discourse

Associate Professor Jill Howieson1, Mr Ben Di Sabato1

1University of Western Australia , Perth, Australia

Procedural Justice (PJ) is widely accepted as an imperative for fair and satisfying dispute resolution processes. Nevertheless, the trust element in the PJ paradigm seems to continue to defy precise description. Given recent research applying Epistemic Trust (ET) in the psychological fields, we hypothesise that the trust element in PJ is epistemic in nature. Namely, the trust component of PJ is trust generated when a person senses the information received from another person is personally relevant and significant. Further, we hypothesise, that when in conflict ET is generated when a person makes a genuine attempt to understand another person’s unique experience and narrative.

We tested these hypotheses in two studies — with litigants in the Supreme Court of Western Australia mediations, and within a one-to-one workplace conflict conversation. The results in both studies showed significant, strong and positive correlations between participant perceptions of PJ and ET.  Further, whether the mediator or other person understood the participant’s personal narrative, strongly influenced the participant’s sense of ET and in turn perceptions of fairness and satisfaction.

These preliminary results have implications for PJ, dispute and conflict resolution research, training, and practice.  The presentation elaborates the concept of ET and describes basic skills in working with the concept.

CD Maxwell and others, ‘Status influences on perceptions of procedural justice: a test of the group value model among intimate partner violence arrestees’ (2020) 44 ICACJ 29

Campbell and others, ‘Development and validation of a self-report measure of epistemic trust’ (2021) 16 PLoS One e0250264


A/Prof Jill Howieson, PhD (Law), LLB (Hons), BA (Hons) (Psych), BA (English) is an Associate Professor in the Law School at UWA. Jill is the Director of the UWA Mediation Clinic and is the coordinator of the Negotiation and Mediation, and Dispute Resolution courses. Jill works from an inter-disciplinary socio-legal perspective and has introduced mentalizing informed mediation (MBT-M) to the field.  Jill’s research areas include procedural justice, MBT-M, the role of epistemic trust in procedural justice, and legal education. Jill is currently writing a series of theoretical pieces on conflict and conflict resolution.

Ben Di Sabato, JD, Bcom (Economics) is a nationally accredited mediator and researcher at the UWA Mediation Clinic.

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