Justice Beyond the Courts: The Implications of Computerisation for Procedural Justice in Social Security

Justice Beyond the Courts: The Implications of Computerisation for Procedural Justice in Social Security

Michael Adler (University of Edinburgh, UK) and Paul Henman (University of Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-998-4.ch005
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This chapter considers the implications of computerisation for procedural justice in social security. It outlines an approach to the analysis of administrative justice—defined as the justice inherent in routine administrative decision making—that is derived from Jerry Mashaw’s pioneering study Bureaucratic Justice. This approach explains the prevailing system of procedural justice in terms of the ‘trade-offs’ between six normative models of adminstrative decision making. The six models are associated with bureaucratic, professional, legal, managerial, consumerist, and market forms of decision making, and the ‘trade-offs’ reflect the outcomes of power struggle between different groups of social actors who champion the various models. This chapter attempts to determine whether, and if so how, computerisation affects the balance of power between the competing models of procedural justice and the groups of social actors who seek to promote them. It is based on an expert-informant study carried out by the authors. Two indicators for each of these six models were formulated and expert informants in 13 OECD countries were asked first to rate their importance on a 1–5 scale and second to assess, using another 1–5 scale, whether computerisation had made them more or less important. The main findings reported in the chapter suggest first that bureaucracy, followed by managerialism and legality are the most important determinants of administrative justice in social security, while the market followed by professionalism and consumerism are the least important, and second that the effect of computerisation has been to further entrench the bureaucratic and managerial models and undermine the professional model. The chapter relates these findings to data on to the aims of computerisation, the extent to which social security systems had embraced computerisation, and the emphasis that social security systems placed on data protection. In addition to generalising about the experiences of the 13 countries in the study, the chapter also describes the experiences of individual countries. It concludes that computerisation has altered the characteristics of service delivery by promoting some forms of administrative justice over others in particular by strengthening ‘top-down’ and managerialist forms of accountability at the expense of ‘bottom-up’ and rights-based approaches, and ends with a plea for a greater research focus on the administration of welfare and its justice implications.
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Although there is much argument about the scope of justice claims and the priority that should be given to them, justice is widely recognised as a principle of wide application and considerable importance. Indeed, John Rawls asserts that it is the primary criterion by which the basic structure of society should be judged, ‘the first virtue of social institutions, just as truth is of systems of thought’ (Rawls, 1972, p. 3)

Rawls distinguishes between the concept of justice, which refers to ‘a proper balance between competing claims’ and competing conceptions of justice, each of which expresses a different set of ‘principles for identifying what determines this balance’ (Rawls, 1972, p. 10). The coexistence of a single concept and several competing conceptions suggests that justice, like many other important social and political ideals, is essentially contested (Gallie, 1964).

It has become commonplace to distinguish between different subdivisions of justice in terms of their fields of application. Thus, restorative justice, which is concerned with compensation for harm or injury (in civil matters), can be distinguished from punitive justice, which is concerned with the punishment of wrongdoing (in criminal matters) (Honoré, 1970). Restorative justice and punitive justice make up justice, which can in turn be distinguished from social justice.

A distinction can also be made between procedural justice (that we take to be synonymous with procedural fairness), which is concerned with ‘process,’ and substantive justice, which is concerned with ‘outcomes’ (Richardson, 1984, p. 105). Procedural fairness focuses on how individuals are treated while substantive justice focuses on what they contribute or receive. Both the subdivisions referred to above, that is, legal justice and social justice, have procedural and substantive dimensions. In the first case, these procedural dimensions include the rules of evidence and procedure that govern decision making in the criminal and civil courts; in the second case, the administrative rules that govern decision making by government departments and other official bodies.

If justice is concerned with ensuring that everyone receives what is due to them in terms of their personal characteristics and circumstances (whatever they may be), the idea of procedural justice suggests that this principle can be applied to procedures and that a fair procedure is one in which individuals are treated in a manner that reflects what is due to them.

This chapter investigates the contribution of electronic information and communication technologies (ICTs) to the operation and transformation of procedural justice in social security. It is based on comparative data collected by the authors on the impact of ICTs on social security systems. The data were collected in the middle of 2000 and at the end of 2004. The 2000 data, which cover the period from 1985 to 2000, were generated by 23 expert informants, who included ‘insider experts’ working for the government or for a social security institution, and ‘outsider experts’, who were usually independent researchers or consultants, in 13 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries; 10 Western European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom); Australia; Canada; and the United States of America. The 2004 data, which updated the 2000 data set and covered the period from 2000 to 2004, were collected from 14 expert informants in eight of these countries.1 The earlier period was dominated by the introduction of online computerisation of social security administration, whereas the latter was dominated by the growing use of the Internet.

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