Skip to main content

Procedural justice perceptions, legitimacy beliefs, and compliance with the law: a meta-analysis



The purpose of this study was to compare procedural justice and legitimacy as correlates and predictors of compliance with the law.


A literature review produced 64 studies, 95 samples, and 196 effect sizes from studies published or conducted sometime between 1990 and February 2018 in which procedural justice was correlated with legitimacy and/or compliance, or legitimacy was correlated with compliance. Fifty samples included all 3 correlations, 3 samples included 2 correlations, and the remaining 42 samples included a single correlation. Two random effects meta-analyses were performed.


Pooled univariate effects for all three correlations achieved significance. Although there was a high degree of heterogeneity in the results and modest evidence of publication bias in one of the subsamples, sensitivity testing indicated that no one study had an undue influence over the results. Using a generalized least squares (GLS) multivariate approach, a path analysis revealed a significant a path from procedural justice to legitimacy, a significant b path from legitimacy to compliance, and a significant c’ path from procedural justice to compliance, but only the a and b paths were significant when the analysis was restricted to studies with longitudinal data.


The current findings suggest that legitimacy beliefs are instrumental in promoting compliance with the law and that while procedural justice perceptions also appear to predict compliance, the effect was relatively weak in this meta-analysis and could not be reliably established in longitudinal datasets.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


*Studies included in this meta-analysis

  • *European Social Survey (2010). Data available at:

  • *Akinlabi, O. M. (2017). Young people, procedural justice and police legitimacy in Nigeria. Policing and Society, 27, 419–438.

  • *Akinlabi, O. M., & Murphy, K. (2018). Dull compulsion or perceived legitimacy? Assessing why people comply with the law in Nigeria. Police Practice and Research, 19, 186–201.

  • *Baker, T. (2017). Exploring the relationship of shared race/ethnicity with court actors, perceptions of court actors, perceptions of court procedural justice, and obligation to obey among male offenders. Race and Justice, 7, 87–102.

  • *Baker, T., Pickett, J. T., Amin, D. H., Golden, K., Dhungana, K., Gertz, M., & Bedard, L. (2015). Shared race/ethnicity, court procedural justice, and self-regulating beliefs: a study of female offenders. Law and Society Review, 49, 433–465.

  • Becker, B. J. (1992). Using results from replicated studies to estimate linear models. Journal of Educational Statistics, 17, 341–362.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Becker, B. J. (1995). Corrections to “using results from replicated studies to estimate linear models”. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 20, 100–102.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, B. J. (2000). Multivariate meta-analysis. In H. E. A. Tinsley & S. D. Brown (Eds.), Handbook of applied multivariate statistics and mathematical modeling (pp. 499–525). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Becker, B. J., & Schram, C. M. (1994). Examining explanatory models through research synthesis. In H. Cooper & L. V. Hedges (Eds.), The handbook of research synthesis (pp. 357–381). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • *Beijersbergen, K. A., Dirkzwager, A. J. E., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2016). Reoffending after release: does procedural justice during imprisonment matter? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 63–82.

  • Black, J. (2008). Constructing and contesting legitimacy and accountability in polycentric regulatory regimes. Regulation and Governance, 2, 137–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bolger, P. C. (2015). Just following orders: a meta-analysis of the correlates of American police officer use of force decisions. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 466–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bolger, P. C., & Lytle, D. (2018). A meta-analysis of suspect demographic characteristics and American police officer search decision criminology. Criminal Justice, Law & Society.

  • Borenstein, M., Hedges, L. V., Higgins, J. P., & Rothstein, H. R. (2005). Comprehensive Meta-Analysis (Version 2) [Computer software]. Englewood: Biostat.

    Google Scholar 

  • *Bradford, B., Hohl, K., Jackson, J., & MacQueen, S. (2015). Obeying the rules of the road: procedural justice, social identity, and normative compliance. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 31, 171–191.

  • *Canada, K. E., & Hiday, A. (2014). Procedural justice in mental health court: an investigation of the relation of perception of procedural justice to non-adherence and termination. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 25, 321–340.

  • *Chui, W. H., & Cheng, K. K. (2015). Young people’s perception of lawyers in Hong Kong: a comparison between offenders, youth-at-risk and students. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 43, 481–495.

  • *Czapska, J., Radomska, E., & Wójcik, D. (2016). Police legitimacy, procedural justice, and cooperation with the police: a Polish perspective. Journal of Criminal Justice and Security, 4, 453–470.

  • *D’hondt, L. (2013). An exploratory study of trust in the judicial court and its effects on citizens’ cooperation and punitiveness. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Ghent: Ghent University.

  • Donner, C., Maskaly, J., Fridell, L., & Jennings, W. G. (2015). Policing and procedural justice: a state-of-the-art review. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 38, 153–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duval, S. J., & Tweedie, R. L. (2000). Trim and fill: a simple funnel-plot-based method of testing and adjusting for publication bias in meta-analysis. Biometrics, 56, 455–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Egger, M., Davey, S. G., Schneider, M., & Minder, C. (1997). Bias in meta-analysis detected by a simple, graphical test. British Medical Journal, 315, 629–634.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Elliott, I., Thomas, D. M., & Ogloff, J. R. P. (2011). Procedural justice in contacts with the police: testing a relational model of authority in a mixed methods study. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 17, 592–610.

  • Fagan, J., & Piquero, A. R. (2007). Rational choice and developmental influences on recidivism among adolescent felony offenders. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 4, 715–748.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fagan, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2005). Legal socialization of children and adolescents. Social Justice Research, 18, 217–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Ferdik, F. V., Wolfe, S. E., & Blasco, N. (2014). Informal social controls, procedural justice and perceived police legitimacy: do social bonds influence evaluations of police legitimacy? American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 471–492.

  • *Fine, A., Cavanagh, C., Donley, S., Frick, P. J., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2017). Is the effect of justice system attitudes on recidivism stable after youths’ first arrest? Race and legal socialization among first-time youth offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 41, 146–158.

  • *Fine, A., van Rooij, B., Feldman, Y., Shalvi, S., Scheper, E., Leib, M., & Cauffman, E. (2018). Rule orientation and behavior: development and validation of a scale measuring individual acceptance of rule violation. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 22, 314–329.

  • *Fontaine, N. M. G., Brendgen, M., Vitaro, F., & Tremblay, R. E. (2016). Compensatory and protective factors against violent delinquency in late adolescence: results from the Montreal longitudinal and experimental study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 45, 54–62.

  • *Gau, J. M., Corsaro, N., Stewart, E. A., & Brunson, R. K. (2012). Examining macro-level impacts on procedural justice and police legitimacy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 333–343.

  • *Gobena, L. B., & Van Dijke, M. (2017). Fear and caring: procedural justice, trust, and collective identification as antecedents of voluntary tax compliance. Journal of Economic Psychology, 62, 1–16.

  • *Harvell, S. A.S. (2008). A developmental assessment of procedural justice: does process matter to juvenile detainees? (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 3339905).

  • Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: a regression-based approach. New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  • *Hertogh, M. (2015). What moves Joe driver? How perceptions of legitimacy shape regulatory compliance among Dutch traffic offenders. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 43, 214–234.

  • Higgins, J. P. T., & Thompson, S. G. (2002). Quantifying heterogeneity in a meta-analysis. Statistics in Medicine, 21, 1539–1558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Hinds, L., & Murphy, K. (2007). Public satisfaction with police: using procedural justice to improve police legitimacy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 40(4), 27–43.

  • Hough, M., Jackson, J., Bradford, B., Myhill, A., & Quinton, P. (2010). Procedural justice, trust and institutional legitimacy. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 4, 203–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Huq, A. Z., Tyler, T. R., & Schulhofer, S. J. (2011). Why does the public cooperate with law enforcement? The influence of the purposes and targets of policing. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 17, 419–450.

  • *Jackson, J., Bradford, B., Hough, M., Myhill, A., Quinton, P., & Tyler, T. R. (2012). Why do people comply with the law? Legitimacy and the influence of legal institutions. British Journal of Criminology, 52, 1051–1071.

  • *Jackson, J., Huq, A. Z., Bradford, B., & Tyler, T. R. (2013). Monopolizing force? Police legitimacy and public attitudes toward the acceptability of violence. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19, 479–497.

  • James, L. R., & Brett, J. M. (1984). Mediators, moderators, and tests for mediation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69, 307–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Jeleniewski, S. A. (2014). Expanding legitimacy in the procedural justice model of legal socialization: trust, obligation to obey and right to make rules (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 3581200.

  • *Johnson, D., Maguire, E. R., & Kuhns, J. B. (2014). Public perceptions of the legitimacy of the law and legal authorities: evidence from the Caribbean. Law and Society Review, 48, 947–978.

  • *Jonathan-Zamir, T., & Weisburd, D. (2013). The effects of security threats on antecedents of police legitimacy: Findings from a quasi-experiment in Israel. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50, 3–32.

  • *Jorgensen, J. C. (2011). Public perceptions matter: a procedural justice study examining an arrestee population (Master’s Thesis). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 1496666).

  • *Kochel, T. R., Parks, R., & Mastrofski, S. D. (2013). Examining police effectiveness as a precursor to legitimacy and cooperation with police. Justice Quarterly, 30, 895–925.

  • Kochel, T. R., Wilson, D. B., & Mastrofski, S. D. (2011). Effect of suspect race on officers’ arrest decisions. Criminology, 49, 473–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Leslie, E. M., Cherney, A., Smirnov, A., Wells, H., Kemp, R., & Najman, J. M. (2017). Willingness to cooperate with police: a population-based study of Australian young adult illicit stimulant users. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 17, 301–318.

  • Levi, M., Sacks, A., & Tyler, T. R. (2009). Conceptualizing legitimacy, measuring legitimating beliefs. American Behavioral Scientist, 53, 354–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Liu, S., & Liu, J. (2018). Police legitimacy and compliance with the law among Chinese youth. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62, 3536‒3561.

  • Lytle, D. (2014). The effects of suspect characteristics on arrest: A meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 42, 589–597.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Madon, N. S., Murphy, K., & Cherney, A. (2016). Promoting community collaboration in counterterrorism: do social identities and perceptions of legitimacy mediate reactions to procedural justice policing? British Journal of Criminology, 57, 1144–1164.

  • *Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Bennett, S., & Tyler, T. R. (2013). Shaping citizen perceptions of police legitimacy: a randomized field trial of procedural justice. Criminology, 51, 33–63.

  • Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Davis, J., Sargeant, E., & Manning, M. (2013). Procedural justice and police legitimacy: a systematic review of the research evidence. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 9, 245–274.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, O. (2005). A meta−analysis of race and sentencing research: explaining the inconsistencies. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 21, 439–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Mondak, J. J. (1999). Institutional legitimacy and procedural justice: reexamining the question of causality. Law and Society Review, 27, 599–608.

  • *Muratbegović, E., Vujović, S., & Fazlić, A. (2014). Procedural justice, police legitimacy and cooperation of Bosnian students with the police. Journal of Criminal Justice and Security, 16, 387–411.

  • Murphy, K. (2005). Regulating more effectively: the relationship between procedural justice, legitimacy and tax non-compliance. Journal of Law and Society, 32, 562–589.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Murphy, K. (2015). Does procedural justice matter to youth? Comparing adults’ and youths’ willingness to collaborate with police. Policing and Society, 25, 53–76.

  • *Murphy, K., Bradford, B., & Jackson, J. (2016). Motivating compliance behavior among offenders: procedural justice or deterrence? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 102–118.

  • *Murphy, K., & Cherney, A. (2011). Fostering cooperation with the police: how do ethnic minorities in Australia respond to procedural justice-based policing? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 44, 235–257.

  • Murphy, K., & Gaylor, A. (2010). Policing youth: can procedural justice nurture youth cooperation with police? Geelong: Alfred Deakin Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • *Murphy, K., Hinds, L., & Fleming, J. (2008). Encouraging public cooperation and support for the police. Policing and Society, 18, 136–155.

  • *Paternoster, R., Brame, R., Bachman, R., & Sherman, L. W. (1997). Do fair procedures matter? The effect of procedural justice on spouse assault. Law and Society Review, 31, 163–204.

  • *Penner, E. K. (2012). Procedural justice and legitimacy in adolescent offenders: associations with mental health, psychopathic features and offending. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

  • *Penner, E. K., Viljoen, J. L., Douglas, K. S., & Roesch, R. (2014). Procedural justice versus risk factors for offending: predicting recidivism in youth. Law and Human Behavior, 38, 225–237.

  • *Pryce, D. K. (2014). Procedural justice, legitimacy, and cooperation with police: evidence from a community of Ghanaian immigrants (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 3638060.

  • *Reisig, M. D., Bratton, J., & Gertz, M. G. (2007). The construct validity and refinement of process-based policing measures. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34, 1005–1028.

  • Reisig, M. D., & Lloyd, C. (2009). Procedural justice, police legitimacy, and helping the police fight crime: results from a survey of Jamaican adolescents. Police Quarterly, 12, 42–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Reisig, M., & Mesko, G. (2009). Procedural justice, legitimacy and prisoner misconduct. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15, 41–59.

  • *Reisig, M. D., Tankebe, J., & Mesko, G. (2014). Compliance with the law in Slovenia: the role of procedural justice and police legitimacy. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 20, 259–276.

  • *Reisig, M. D., Wolfe, S. E., & Holtfreter, K. (2011). Legal cynicism, legitimacy, and criminal offending: the nonconfounding effect of low self-control. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 38, 1265–1279.

  • *Sargeant, E., Murphy, K., & Cherney, A. (2014). Ethnicity, trust, and cooperation with police: testing the dominance of the process-based model. European Journal of Criminology, 11, 500–524.

  • *Sherman, L. W., Strang, H., Barnes, G. C., Braithwaite, J., Inkpen, N., & Teh, M. M. (1998). Experiments in restorative policing: a progress report on the Canberra Reintegrative shaming experiments (RISE). Canberra: Australian Federal Police and Australian National University

  • *Slocum, L. A., Wiley, S. A., & Esbensen, F.-A. (2016). The importance of being satisfied: a longitudinal exploration of police contact, procedural injustice, and subsequent delinquency. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 7–26.

  • Sterne, J. A., Sutton, A. J., Ioannidis, J. P., Terrin, N., Jones, D. R., et al. (2011). Recommendations for examining and interpreting funnel plot asymmetry in meta-analyses of randomized control trials. BMJ, 343, d4002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Sun, I. Y., Wu, Y., Hu, R., & Farmer, A. K. (2017). Procedural justice, legitimacy, and public cooperation with police: does western wisdom hold in China? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54, 454–478.

  • *Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2003). The role of procedural justice for legitimacy in shaping public support for policing. Law and Society Review, 37, 513–548.

  • *Tankebe, J. (2008). Police effectiveness and police trustworthiness in Ghana: an empirical appraisal. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8, 185–202.

  • *Tatar J. R., Kaasa, S. O., & Cauffman, E. (2012). Perceptions of procedural justice among female offenders: time does not heal all wounds. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 18, 268–296.

  • *Trinkner, R., & Cohn, E. S. (2014). Putting the “social” back in legal socialization: procedural justice, legitimacy, and cynicism in legal and nonlegal authorities. Law and Human Behavior, 38, 602–617.

  • Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (1997). The psychology of legitimacy: a relational perspective on voluntary deference to authorities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1, 323–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (2001a). A psychological perspective on the legitimacy of institutions and authorities. In J. T. Jost & B. Major (Eds.), The psychology of legitimacy: Emerging perspectives on ideology, justice, and intergroup relations (pp. 416–436). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (2001b). Public trust and confidence in legal authorities: what do majority and minority group members want from legal authorities? Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 19, 215–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (2003). Procedural justice, legitimacy, and the effective rule of law. Crime and Justice, 30, 283–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (2006). Restorative justice and procedural justice: dealing with rule breaking. Journal of Social Issues, 62, 307–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R., Callahan, P. E., & Frost, J. (2007). Armed, and dangerous (?): motivating rule adherence among agents of social control. Law & Society Review, 41(2), 457–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R., & Fagan, J. A. (2008). Legitimacy and cooperation: why do people help the police fight crime in their communities? Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 6, 231–275.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R., Goff, P. A., & MacCoun, R. J. (2015). The impact of psychological science on policing in the United States: procedural justice, legitimacy, and effective law enforcement. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16, 75–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. J. (2002). Trust in the law. New York: Russell Sage.

  • *Tyler, T. R., & Rasinski, K. (1991). Procedural justice, institutional legitimacy, and the acceptance of unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decisions: a reply to Gibson. Law and Society Review, 25, 621–630.

  • *Van Damme, A., & Pauwels, L. (2016). Why are young adults willing to cooperate with the police and comply with traffic laws? Examining the role of attitudes toward the police and law, perceived deterrence and personal morality. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 46, 103–116.

  • *Van der Toorn, J., Tyler, T. R., & Jost, J. T. (2011). More than fair: outcome dependence, system justification, and the perceived legitimacy of authority figures. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 127–138.

  • *Vidal, S., Cleary, H., Woolard, J., & Michel, J. (2017). Adolescents’ legal socialization: effects of interrogation and Miranda knowledge on legitimacy, cynicism, and procedural justice. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 15, 419–440.

  • Walters, G. D. (2016). Predicting recidivism with the criminal sentiments scale: a meta-analysis of a putative measure of criminal thought content. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 1159–1172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • *Walters, G. D. (2018). Procedural justice, legitimacy beliefs, and moral disengagement in emerging adulthood: explaining continuity and desistance in the moral model of criminal lifestyle development. Law and Human Behavior, 42, 37–49.

  • Walters, G. D., & Morgan, R. D. (2018). Assessing criminal thought content: preliminary validation of the criminal thought content inventory (CTCI). Psychology, Crime, and Law. Online first,

  • *Watson, A. C., Angell, B., Vidalon, T., & Davis, K. (2010). Measuring perceived procedural justice and coercion among persons with mental illness in police encounters: the police contact experience scale. Journal of Community Psychology, 38, 206–226.

  • *White, M. D., Mulvey, P., & Dario, L. M. (2016). Arrestees’ perceptions of the police: exploring procedural justice, legitimacy, and willingness to cooperate with police across offender types. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 343–364.

  • *Wolfe, S. E. (2011). The effect of low self-control on perceived police legitimacy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 67–74.

  • *Wolfe, S. E., Nix, J., Kaminski, R., & Rojek, J. (2016). Is the effect of procedural justice on police legitimacy invariant? Testing the generality of procedural justice and competing antecedents of legitimacy. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32, 253–282.

  • Zhang, Y. (2011). Meta-analytic structural equation modeling (MASEM): comparison of the multivariate methods. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Glenn D. Walters.

Additional information

The authors would like to thank Thomas Baker, Karin Beijersbergen, Jon Jackson, Cody Jorgensen, Tammy Kochel, Ellen Leslie, Siyu Liu, Natasha Madon, Lieven Pauwels, Catherine Shaffer, Lawrence Sherman, Ivan Sun, Rick Trinker, and Scott Wolfe for providing data unavailable in published sources. We also would like to express our gratitude to Betsy Becker for running the path analysis portion of the results using her SAS code for correlation matrix synthesis and path analysis.



Table 5 Measures of procedural justice, legitimacy, and compliance from the 64 studies contributing data to the current meta-analysis

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Walters, G.D., Bolger, P.C. Procedural justice perceptions, legitimacy beliefs, and compliance with the law: a meta-analysis. J Exp Criminol 15, 341–372 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Procedural justice
  • Legitimacy beliefs
  • Compliance with the law
  • Meta-analysis