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Beyond the survey. In search for understanding and suggestions for the criminal justice policy

Research project AG/FF/087 (Research action AG)

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Description :


This qualitative research aims at understanding the way citizens build their social representations about the justice system and at the collection of suggestions for optimising the system in order to increase citizen’s confidence.
This research is carried out, in the Flemish-speaking region, by the criminology research unit of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) under the direction of the professors J. Goethals, G. Vervaeke and S. Parmentier. In the French-speaking region, the research is led by the University of Liège (ULg) under the direction of the professors G. Kellens and A. Lemaitre, for the criminology research unit and of the professor R. Doutrelepont, for the research unit of general sociology and methodology in social sciences. This current research succeed from an earlier research project on the attitudes of Belgian citizens towards Justice, realised by the same research partners financed by the Belgian Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs – today, Belgian Federal Science Policy Office.
In the previous research project, a survey was developed in order to make a photograph of the attitudes of the Belgian citizens towards the justice system. The respondents were questioned on their general level of confidence in the system and the actors and on several topics among others: their opinion about the severity of actual punishments, alternative sentences, and release on parole. Although the results offer for the first time in our country a clear picture of the way citizens think about the system it does not allow firm conclusions about the way policy makers can react on these results.


This research will focus first, on how representations of justice are constructed by citizens. Second, suggestions and recommendations of citizens with regard to the optimalization of the justice system will be collected.


In the preparatory phase, an analysis of the results of the quantitative survey-research resulted in the selection of four Belgian judicial districts: two in the Flemish part, and two in the French-speaking part of the country. They were chosen on the basis of their levels of trust in the justice system. In each part of Belgium the districts with the highest rates and lowest rates of confidence in justice were selected. In a second step the research was presented to the public prosecutor and the chairman of the courts of the selected judicial districts in order to ask for their support and willingness to participate.

Data will be collected by the use of focus groups. Via this method, a variation of perspectives will be gathered with regard to the topics offered by the moderator. Therefore, eight focus groups of citizens will be selected in each district. This selection is based on the results of the survey, in which was found that the following variables ‘personal experience with justice’, ‘age’ and ‘education’ have a significant influence on the opinion towards justice. As regards 'age’, one focus group will be composed with people younger than 25 years and a second with elderly people, plus 50 years. With regard to education, one focus group for people without education will be set up, and one for highly educated people. Four focus groups will be composed of civilians who had an experience with justice, of whom two for people with criminal courts experience and two with civilian court experience.
Additional, four focus groups (in each judicial district) will be organised with experts, i.e. key informants, such as judges, lawyers, and members of para-judicial institutions. Each of these professional groups will be informed about the findings of the focus groups with civilians. These participants of the judicial world will have the opportunity to validate the analysis, interpretations and suggestions obtained from the focus groups with civilians. Now then, for the focus groups, a topic list is drafted, based upon the aims of this research. This topic list contains first, some theme’s of the survey for which more analysis are needed, and second dilates upon practical recommendations towards justice.

Next, we will proceed to the data analysis. Although data analysis is presented as a separated phase, this research action will take place on various moments. The qualitative processing program QSR-N6 will be used for the analysis of the typed group interviews.

Finally, the results will be valorised by a report. A congress will be organised on behalf of the decision makers in the world of justice, police and media.

Documentation :

La Justice en question: une approche qualitative à partir du "baromètre de la justice" = Justitie in vraag gesteld: een kwalitatieve benadering vertrekkende vanuit de "justitiebarometer"  Goethals, Johan - Lemaître, André - Doutrelepont, René ... et al  Gent : Academia Press, 2005 (PB6130)

La justice en question. Après le "baromètre de la Justice": une recherche qualitative : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2004 (SP1390)
[To download

Justitie in vraag gesteld. De "justitiebarometer" voorbij: een kwalitatief onderzoek : samenvatting    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2004 (SP1391)
[To download

Justice in question. After the "barometer of Justice": a qualitative research : summary    Brussels : Federale Science Policy, 2004 (SP1392)
[To download

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