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Democracy, Courts and the Information Order

  • Gillian K. Hadfield (a1) and Dan Ryan (a2)

Conventional wisdom about civil litigation, both among scholars and political actors, holds that abuse of the legal process is common, that there is too much litigation, that it is “all about the money”, and that “a bad settlement is better than a good trial”. This constellation of attitudes that emphasize the economic function of law suggests that courts are an expensive conflict resolution mechanism of last resort and that their use would be minimized in a healthy market-based democracy. In this paper we apply a new sociological framework to understand the meaning and function of civil litigation in a democratic society. We focus in particular on the democratic function of the informational characteristics of litigation that require substantial disclosure and engagement between plaintiff, defendant and third parties. Instead we examine the role courts play in the maintenance and attainment of a social information order – norms and legal rules governing the sharing and withholding of information that depend on and constitute particular status relationships between actors (Ryan 2006). Using interviews and surveys of family members of victims of 9/11 we develop a theory of the lived experience of entitlement to information in Anglo-American legal settings with suggestions of how these ideas might translate to civil law systems.


La sagesse commune, partagée par les intellectuels comme les politiques croit à l’abus de procédures judiciaires en matière civile, pense qu’il s’agit toujours d’argent et qu’un mauvais arrangement vaut mieux qu’un bon jugement. Cet ensemble d’attitudes avec accent mis sur la fonction économique de la loi pousse à dire que le recours à la justice est une façon coûteuse de régler les conflits dont une saine démocratie libérale devrait minorer l’usage. L’article propose une lecture sociologique nouvelle de la signification et de la fonction d’un procès civil. Attention est attirée notamment sur l’apport démocratique de l’information dévoilée qui impose un engagement substantiel du plaignant du défendeur et des parties tierces au procès. Examen est fait du rôle des tribunaux dans l’entretien et la production d’un ordre social de l’information – normes et règles légales aidant. La base empirique vient d’interviews et enquêtes auprès de victimes du 11 septembre 20011. Une théorisation de l’expérience vivante des tribunaux anglo-saxons invite à suggérer que certaines idées pourraient être adoptées dans d’autres systèmes judiciaires.


Zivile Rechtsstreitigkeiten werden vom Volksmund, und hier sowohl bei Intellektuellen als auch bei Politikern, wie folgt eingestuft: der Mißbrauch des legalen Prozesses ist die Regel, es gibt zu viele Rechtsstreitigkeiten, es ,,dreht sich alles nur um das Geld“ und ein ,,schlechter Ausgleich ist besser als eine gute Verhandlung“. Diese Einstellungen, die die wirtschaftliche Aufgabe des Rechts betonen, wecken den Eindruck, dass eine gerichtliche Konfliktlösung nur im Notfall angestrebt, da kostenaufwending, und in einer gesunden, marktwirtschaftlichen Demokratie auf ein Minimum reduziert werden sollte. Der neue soziologische Interpretationsansatz dieses Beitrags rückt Bedeutung und Aufgabe des Zivilprozesses in ein anderes Licht. Besondere Aufmerksamkeit wird hierbei der demokratischen Aufgabe des informativen Charakters von Rechtsstreitigkeiten geschenkt, die alle Beteiligten - Kläger, Verteidiger und Dritte – herausfordert. Desweiteren wird untersucht, welche Rolle Gerichte bei der Auf- und Erarbeitung von sozialen Information spielen – Normen und gesetzliche Regeln bestimmen den Informationsaustausch oder -vorenthalt, der wiederum von den Beziehungen unter den Beteiligten abhängt bzw. von ihnen beeinflusst wird (Ryan 2006). Aufbauend auf Interviews und Studien von Familien, die Opfer des 11. September geworden sind, wird eine Theorie erlebter Erfahrungen von Rechtsanspruch an Informationen im anglo-amerikanischen System entwickelt, gekoppelt mit Vorschlägen für eine Übernahme in das zivile Rechtssystem.

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European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie
  • ISSN: 0003-9756
  • EISSN: 1474-0583
  • URL: /core/journals/european-journal-of-sociology-archives-europeennes-de-sociologie
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