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Hu Ming | Rational interpretation and construction of judicial credibility
2023-10-23 [author] Hu Ming preview:

[author]Hu Ming


Rational interpretation and construction of judicial credibility

Author* Hu Ming

Professor and doctoral supervisor of Guanghua Law School, Zhejiang University
Member of the Planning Committee, China Institute for Socia-Legal Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Abstract: Since the era of media, the influence of public opinions on judicial judgments has increased significantly, showing the phenomenon of public opinion influencing judgments, and behind it is the issue of judicial credibility. Taking influential litigation cases as specimens, based on rational interpretation, the core elements that affect the public's judgment of criminal cases can be revealed from different cases, that is, the internal elements with trust, reputation and interaction as the core, and the external elements with transaction costs as the core. Through the quantitative evaluation of the public's trust, reputation and interaction in criminal justice, the difference in understanding between the public and grassroots judicial officials is compared, reflecting that behind the rational choice is the lack of judicial credibility caused by violation of judicial regularities. The current judicial reform needs to strive to bridge this gap in understanding, adhere to the concept of the rule of law and respect judicial regularities, and shape a benign relationship between the public and criminal justice on this basis.

Keywords: self-media, criminal justice, judicial credibility, rational choice, judicial regularities

In recent years, criminal cases such as Xu Ting case, Deng Yujiao case, and the Hu Ge case have triggered widespread heated discussions, to the extent that they have evolved into highly influential public cases. These cases show the differences in understanding and conflicts of concepts between the public and the criminal justice authorities, and the discussion of these cases is generally characterized by the distinctive features of the self-media era. The mode of information dissemination is gradually dominated by the general public, and the traditional "point-to-face" vertical dissemination is transformed into "point-to-point" reciprocal dissemination, which makes the media leap from the "era of being" to the "era of me", and reduces the public's dependence on the information of the official media. The popularity of weibo, wechat and other self-media, as well as smart phones, makes the public have a wide range of information sources and the right to speak on criminal cases, so that the so-called "judicial public opinion" on the criminal trial has a huge influence, making the judicial organs around the country feel the pressure. In this regard, existing studies have analyzed the characteristics of public opinion in judicial trials, condensed the thematic elements of influential cases, and discussed the relationship between media supervision and judicial independence, among other important issues.

Through the public's judgment and evaluation of the judiciary, and through the ambiguous concept of “public opinion”, which has political overtones, we can see the essential issue of judicial credibility. Judicial credibility refers to the fact that judgments and evaluations of the judiciary are not made by individuals or a small number of people, but are the collective judgments and evaluations of the public. Western research has found that the media has a very important influence on judicial credibility, live television, the Internet and other things have changed and greatly expanded the way the public face the judicial, empirical investigation of public trust in criminal justice is a visual demonstration of the structure of judicial credibility. This paper does not intend to discuss the meaning and importance of judicial credibility, nor does it intentionally design a program to improve judicial credibility. Instead, based on previous theoretical studies and micro-level case studies, this paper attempts to re-examine the issue of judicial credibility from a comprehensive perspective of social sciences in which the public expresses its opinions through self-media. Based on the assumption that the public's judgment of criminal cases is a rational choice, it explores the elements affecting the public's and the judge's different perceptions of criminal cases in the age of self-media, and explains the deep-rooted reasons for the lack of judicial credibility, with a view to providing theoretical support for enhancing judicial credibility, advancing the reform of the criminal justice system, and realizing that the people can feel fairness and justice in every judicial case.

1. Explaining theories of judicial credibility: from public opinion to rationality

In examining the issue of judicial credibility in China, the first point should be the theory of the relationship between public opinion and the judiciary. Whether the relationship between public opinion and the judiciary is positive or negative, there are relevant cases to support it, and it is often criticized by dissenters because of its insufficient explanatory power and persuasive force, while emphasizing both positive and negative relationships at the same time is easy to fall into a circular argumentation.

The traditional view is that public opinion is the basis for the existence, operation and development of society, "In a certain sense, the history of civilization constituted by the conscious activities of human beings is the history of the continuous recognition and enhancement of the status of 'public opinion'. The direction of public opinion can build everything or destroy everything." In the judicial field, public opinion is manifested as judicial public opinion, which can also be called judicial public inclination or judicial communal will, and refers to the general term for the similar opinions, feelings and behavioral tendencies the majority of the society hold towards the judiciary, the judicial staff, and their judicial behaviors and judicial phenomena. It can be said that the judicial public opinion is like a social "taste" of justice, this social "taste" is difficult to be judged by right or wrong, differences within the “taste” are also bound to exist. In the Western concept of the rule of law, emphasizing the authority of the law and justice itself, such as Berman's famous saying "the law must be believed, otherwise it will be nothing", of which the implication is that the law and the authority of the judiciary itself is unquestionable. The rule of law in our country is different, the authority of the law and justice itself has not been shaped, based on rituals, traditions, universality and other bases of procedural justice can not yet exceed the substantive justice in the public mind to become a strong support for judicial fairness and judicial authority. This means that the credibility of justice needs to rely on the power of substantive justice, such as the social effect of adjudication and the acceptability of adjudication, together with the effect of the self-media, which has amplified the influence of public opinion on judicial adjudication.

However, the explanatory power of the theory of public opinion on the issue of judicial credibility is limited. First of all, in the modern rule of law, the judicial trial should not be dominated by public opinion, and the trial by public opinion cannot replace the judicial trial. Justice itself has its own laws, justice and public opinion are by no means in a determined and determining relationship, and judicial credibility is not the stronger the closer it is to public opinion, that is to say, public opinion and public sentiment cannot be used to replace judicial adjudication. In other words, the judiciary should keep a certain distance from public opinion.

Secondly, the process and outcome of discussions on criminal cases in public opinion and the media in real life show more negative content. In particular, the discussion of hot criminal cases on the Internet has been characterized by the emergence of various extreme views and opinions. However, if we take into account factors such as information asymmetry and low judicial prestige, certain Internet opinions seem to have a reasonable side. Further analysis shows that if public opinion in criminal justice is regarded as irrational or elusive, it is impossible to make a basic prediction of judicial public opinion. Coleman has said, "If the goal of social theory is to explain the activities of social organizations based on the actions of individuals, explaining the actions of individuals means searching for the various motives hidden within their actions." On the surface, individuals often give extreme, irrational opinions or comments when confronted with criminal cases, but this does not negate the rationality of individual actions. This is because "the perception by outsiders that an actor's behavior is not rational or irrational does not reflect the actor's intent. Measured through the eyes of the actors, their actions are rational." If public opinion is regarded as irrational, the conclusion can only be that "the moral level of the public is very low, and the awareness of the rule of law is very poor." Accordingly, such judicial public opinion should either be treated with suppressive measures or ignored. No matter which of the above methods is used, it cannot solve the real problem or provide a scientific response to judicial public opinion.

Again, under our system, it is substantially difficult for public opinion to directly influence judicial decisions. "We have to recognise that there is no such thing as wrong public opinion, only public opinion that has been misinterpreted, and public opinion that has been applied in the wrong way." In practice, the concept of an independent trial in accordance with the law has been widely accepted in theory and practice, and judges want to exclude media scrutiny and the influence of public opinion in the name of an independent trial. However, without the intervention of party and government organs, the judiciary often does not have the ability to resist the influence of public opinion. The conditions for public opinion to play a role are in place when the party and government organs recognise reasonable and legitimate social pressure.

The  backdrop of judicial public opinion is a collection of concepts formed by individual members of society. Regardless of whether the judgment of judicial credibility is high or low, it is inseparable from individual rationality. In order to provide a more scientific and profound explanation of the issue of judicial credibility, it is necessary to examine the rationality of individuals through public opinion. This study adopts a methodological individualism perspective and uses "rationality" as the primary theoretical tool for explanation. It assumes that individuals in society always follow the principle of rational maximization and make their own choices when evaluating relevant criminal cases. Here, "rationality" refers to instrumental rationality, which explains the connection between an individual's purposeful actions and the possible results they can achieve, also known as purposive rationality. Weber distinguishes social actions into four ideal types: (1) purposive rational action (also known as instrumental rational action); (2) value-rational action; (3) affectual action; (4) traditional action. From the perspective of rationality, Weber believes that only the first two types belong to rational social actions. This paper examines individual behavior from the perspective of rationality, primarily corresponding to Weber's concept of instrumental rational action, while not excluding the inclusion of value-rational action. Rational explanation is based on the assumption of the "rational actor" and considers that individual rational choices should conform to both instrumental rationality and value rationality. As Posner put it, "People always rationally maximize their satisfactions; all people (with only very small children and severely intellectually disabled individuals as exceptions) do so in all their activities involving actual choices (except activities influenced by mental disorders, drug abuse, and alcoholism that produce effects similar to mental disorders)."

From a rational perspective, based on the foundation of anticipated utility, individuals carefully consider and calculate when making decisions, weighing the maximum benefits and minimum costs of their decisions and actions. The classical school of criminology believes that criminals are rational, and crime can be prevented by the certainty, severity, and immediacy of punishment. However, this rationality is not unrestricted. Through an analysis at the individual level, it can be seen that people are subject to limitations such as limited time, space, information, and cognitive abilities when making decisions, choices, and judgments. Therefore, when individuals make choices based on rationality, they may differ from rationality in normal circumstances due to the constraints of these factors.

Social science research has long been focused on the issue of people's rational choices, from the "tragedy of the commons" and the "prisoner's dilemma" to the "logic of collective action." Countless classic cases and models have been analyzed, with the primary emphasis on public resource allocation and dilemmas in public affairs, rather than delving into the field of justice. The commonality between the issue of judicial credibility and the study of these models is that they all revolve around individuals as actors, examining various social relationships that come into play when individuals take action, and these relationships, in turn, influence individual choices. These relationships are not isolated but are embedded within the structure of the social system. In this context, Parsons believed that the most crucial aspect of studying social life is to grasp the constituent elements of the social system and their inherent connections, understanding the essence of various movements and changes in the social system, and the mechanisms by which its functions are realized. Coleman adopted a "theory of system behavior starting from individual action," explaining system behavior by breaking it down into different constituent parts, namely individual behaviors. Ostrom, on the other hand, conducted empirical analyses of specific factors that influence individual rational choices.

Rationality is a tool for interpretation, and the maximization of rationality itself requires interpretation. The author believes that the maximization of rationality should include two aspects: objective result maximization and subjective pursuit maximization. On the one hand, objective result maximization implies that rational individuals are considered to be those who can calculate, be creative, and obtain maximum benefits. On the other hand, subjective pursuit maximization indicates that rational individuals subjectively seek to maximize their goals. It is the motivational factor for rational behavior, aiming at achieving the utmost. There is a distinction between objective result maximization and subjective pursuit maximization. Subjective pursuit maximization represents the purpose of human behavior, but having a purpose in behavior does not necessarily lead to results that align with that purpose. The traditional assumption of rational individuals emphasizes that people possess a motivation to pursue efficiency maximization and act accordingly. In other words, human behavior typically involves decision-making under the constraints of full rationality, where choices are made through repeated deliberation and comparison, often based on utility considerations. Only after quantifiable comparisons between different options can individuals make choices within a certain rational paradigm, with the goal of maximizing gains. On a macro level, the evolution of the freedom of rational individuals pursuing personal interest maximization into an unconscious driving force that promotes effective growth of societal public interests requires a well-developed legal system and a scientific institutional structure. However, the very concept of rational maximization is itself limited. Herbert Simon proposed the theory of bounded rationality, suggesting that individual rationality is not limitless. Commonly, individuals cannot access complete information, leading to multiple choices, and it is often unclear which choice would truly maximize personal benefits. In the rational analysis of judicial public opinion, the main limitations may involve the following aspects:

The first is individual judgment errors. The reasons for the public making incorrect judgments about cases may be diverse: (1) Lack of relevant legal knowledge. The general public has limited knowledge of the laws involved in trials, and making judgments based on limited legal knowledge can lead to deviations from the final judgment. For example, in the case of Xu Ting, the lack of knowledge about the relevant laws regarding theft and sentencing led many members of the public to believe that Xu Ting was innocent. (2) Some form of bias. It could be a positive bias, such as having an optimistic bias towards the judiciary because a family member works in law enforcement or the judiciary. It could also be a negative bias, such as a general distrust of law enforcement and the judiciary due to cases of judicial corruption in typical instances. (3) Influence of past experiences. The experiences of individuals involved in criminal cases can have a direct influence and lead to judgment errors. For example, having been a victim of a crime can create a certain impulsiveness towards heavier and quicker punishment for related offenses.

The second is limited self-interest. Practice has shown that individuals are not always inclined to maximize their own interests. In many cases, individuals may prefer to sacrifice their own interests rather than engage in certain behaviors. This seems to demonstrate a force beyond individual self-interest guiding behavior. In criminal cases, this tendency tends to outweigh general economic phenomena. There are several prominent reasons why the public does not evaluate criminal cases solely based on self-interest, including the following three aspects: (1) Notions of justice. The general public's understanding of fairness and justice is not always completely aligned with the law. Often, it reflects a concept of natural justice. "People take nature or divine will as the basis of justice primarily because nature or divine will is real and correct, whereas human will is illusory and erroneous." This sense of justice influences the general public in a way that even if a decision maximizes individual utility, it will not be accepted if it is seen as "manifestly unjust." (2) Conformity psychology. The online world is more likely to form groups than real-life interactions. Through methods like retweeting on platforms like Weibo, individual psychology transforms into group psychology. Under the influence of conformity psychology, mutual influence among groups may ultimately suppress individual rationality. (3) Anonymous effect. In an anonymous state, individuals may express their opinions differently; impulsivity and excitement can easily override rationality and manifest as extreme behavior. In the online world, most actions are taken in a state of practical anonymity, leading to more extreme comments than in other situations and traditional media.

The third is the constraint of social norms. Social norms generally refer to a society's attitudes towards the approval or disapproval of certain behaviors. Social norms exert a certain constraint on judicial opinion, as mentioned earlier regarding notions of justice, which is fundamentally a social norm. This norm constrains the inner world of citizens, causing certain choices that align with individual interests to be self-restricted. The law itself is also a form of social norm, and it is a compelling one. Once a rule is incorporated into law, it receives the direct enforcement of the state, thus directly constraining individual behavior. However, in the entire process of societal operation, it does not solely rely on the law. This is the so-called "order without law." The existence of customs, religion, and other social norms makes "doing good for oneself" a possibility. The influence of the a forementioned social norms can also be included in the scope of rational choice. Due to the existence of social norms, feelings of shame and self-blame become elements that constrain individual behavior. 

2. Rationality in Individual Cases: Factors Influencing Judicial Credibility

What factors influence the public's rational judgment of criminal cases? The author examines influential litigation cases from a five-year period (2007-2011) to understand the relationship between judicial public opinion and judicial credibility. This analysis provides insights into public behavior as a collective social entity, emphasizing the role of rationality in expressing public opinions concerning the judiciary.

2.1 Manifestations in Influential Litigation Cases: Public Choices in the Era of Self-Media

Influential litigation refers to cases significantly impacting legislation and judiciary, drawing extensive social attention and serving as indicators of legal trends. From the selected 50 influential litigation cases over these five years, several patterns emerged:

(1) Criminal cases constituted a majority, accounting for 56% of all cases, surpassing civil, economic, and administrative cases. This underscores the public's higher interest in criminal cases, forming the basis for this analysis. (2) These cases were geographically widespread, with no direct correlation between the case's location and its impact. This phenomenon is linked to the pervasive influence and dissemination power of self-media, which can rapidly spread irrespective of geographical boundaries, unlike traditional media. (3) Case outcomes often reflected public demands, indicating the public's influence on criminal justice. In 13 cases (46.4% of all selected criminal cases), clear public sentiment influenced the outcomes. Examples include the 2007 Xu Ting case, the 2008 Zhou Zhenglong case, the 2010 An Yuanding "Black Jail" case, and the 2011 Li Changkui case. (4) Key to significant influence was the evident disparity between public judgments and judicial authorities' perspectives. For instance, in the Xu Ting case, public sympathy for the defendant conflicted with the judicial authorities' claims of "strict adherence to the law," exerting external pressure on the judiciary.

Moreover, influential litigation cases demonstrate that public judgments on criminal trials are characterized by a "sensory justice" constructed, embellished, and restructured through self-media: (1) Introduction of New Terminology: Phrases like "death by drinking water" and "temporary rape" rapidly expanded the discussions around related cases, capturing public attention. (2) Dramatization of Case Descriptions: Self-media exaggerated case details to capture attention, often incorporating misinformation. For instance, the Zhou Zhenglong case was portrayed as an ongoing suspense drama, perpetuating a sense of unresolved mystery. (3) Elicitation of Public Sympathy through Vulnerable Identities and Resistance Against Authority: Cases where individuals from disadvantaged groups resisted authority, such as the killing of urban management officers by Cui Yingjie and Deng Yujiao's resistance against sexual assault, elicited public sympathy. (4) Adherence to the Internet Law: "Seeing Is Believing": To enhance credibility, sharing photos or videos became a common practice. However, the adage "seeing is believing" didn't always hold true, as evidenced by fabricated images in the Hangzhou street racing case. (5) Emotional Venting: Discussions about individual cases provided a platform for individuals to vent their frustrations regarding personal circumstances or societal issues. Discussions on cases like Cui Yingjie's were mixed with public dissatisfaction regarding law enforcement officers' abuse of state power.

2.2 Core Elements Influencing Public Judgments from Case Studies

So, why do the public make judgments different from the judicial authorities in these cases? Öström conducted research on the factors influencing rational choices by the public in the field of political science, but in the field of law, in-depth studies have not been seen. Here, the author attempts to analyze through the interpretation of typical cases, what are the core elements that lead to public judgments, especially negative judgments, and then explore the factors influencing judicial credibility.
2.2.1 Trust

Influential litigation cases show that the level of trust in public security and judicial authorities directly affects individuals' understanding of criminal cases. Take the case of Deng Yujiao as an example, which, legally, appeared to be a rather ordinary criminal case, but within a few days, it evolved into a nationwide public event. In this case, the relatively vague information initially released by the police provided the public with a great deal of interpretative space. Subsequent events, such as the "dismissal" of lawyers, the assault on journalists in Yesanguan Town, and the "semi-martial law" situation in Badong City, led to increasingly serious public opposition to the local government. Consequently, the Deng Yujiao case gradually transformed into the Deng Yujiao incident, and the public security and judicial authorities in Badong found themselves facing an unprecedented trust crisis. The degree and accuracy of information disclosure affect judicial trust, and the blurring of key information invisibly amplifies certain thematic elements, such as power elements in the Deng Yujiao case. These thematic elements happen to be the ones most likely to attract attention and create resonance in self-media communication. In contrast to information asymmetry in real society, these pieces of information quickly achieve symmetry in the virtual world and reach consensus at a lower cost in the online world. The result is a deepening of the public's distrust of criminal justice."

Some members of the public lack trust and confidence in the judiciary and tend to make negative assessments of criminal cases. This situation is largely due to the public's repeated experiential perception of injustice in some serious criminal cases. For instance, the Zhao Zuohai case in 2010 was a replay of the She Xianglin case, which had been reviewed repeatedly. The 'death from drinking water' case in 2010 was a replay of the 'hide and seek' case from 2009. Such cases quickly spread among individuals through the use of the internet, Weibo, and other forms of social media, causing some members of the public to feel that they have a more direct understanding of the judicial system than ever before and triggering a crisis of trust in the judiciary. Regardless of the extent to which this 'judicial trust crisis' is justified—even for those who doubt the legitimacy of such a crisis, the fact that it exists to this extent should not only be a reason for lamentation but also a motivation for serious reflection and self-examination. This is because the judiciary depends on the trust of the people for its existence. The principles of impartiality, objectivity, and reversibility in any form of justice should never be in conflict with trust in the judiciary!

2.2.2 Interaction

In criminal justice, interaction manifests as the mutual engagement between parties involved, the public, and law enforcement judicial authorities. For example, in the case of reckless driving in Hangzhou, due to a lack of effective and positive interaction and delayed information disclosure, a simple traffic accident evolved into a public event. Rumors about the defendant Hu's family background circulated, followed by speculations during the trial that the defendant was a "stand-in," and the truth always seemed to lag behind rumors. For legal professionals, it is evident that they would not readily believe in this "substitution" claim, as it is an "impossible task" in the statutory procedures of criminal trials in our country. However, considering factors such as information asymmetry and low judicial credibility, this claim itself seems to have a reasonable and plausible side. In reality, these rumors turned out to be unfounded, and if there had been a positive interactive relationship and information disclosure mechanism at that time, it would have saved substantial judicial costs.

Owing to criminal litigation in China is under the authoritarian structure led by law enforcement judicial authorities, the speaking rights of the parties involved and the direct participation rights of the public are limited. Law enforcement judicial authorities hold a dominant position, while the parties involved and the public are in a subordinate "object" position. The introduction of new media provides the parties involved and the public with new channels of communication, and procedural participation no longer relies solely on the public paths provided by criminal procedural law. Currently, in judicial practice, there are controversial interactive and participatory models such as "Weibo live broadcasting" of trials. Due to the changes in the interaction channels between law enforcement judicial authorities, the parties involved, and the public, the difficulty of all parties participating together and implementing actions based on a common standard increases. Some universal standards (including procedural transparency, the defendant's right to be informed, the right to participate in litigation, etc.) no longer depend on state power as traditionally. The differences between criminal justice in the real world brought about by new media and criminal justice in the virtual society, as well as the lack of positive interaction based on a basic consensus, contribute to a declining trend in the acceptability and credibility of judicial outcomes.

2.2.3 Reputation

It is generally believed that in a rule-of-law country, maintaining a good reputation is crucial for upholding judicial authority and the credibility of judgments. Conversely, a poor reputation can severely impact criminal justice. For example, in the case of Zhao Zuohai, recently disclosed information indicates that Zhao Zuohai endured continuous forced confessions for 33 days. Three groups of interrogators used various methods, such as denying Zhao Zuohai rest, starving him, hitting him with wooden sticks, and smashing his head with a pistol, in rotating shifts of 8 hours each. The wrongful convictions resulting from such torture quickly spread among individuals through the internet, significantly damaging the good reputation of the public security and judicial authorities. This, in turn, makes media outlets more inclined to be cautious when evaluating criminal trials.

The positive reputation of public security and judicial authorities helps media outlets exercise more caution when assessing criminal trials. In China, many criminal cases that have garnered widespread public attention have become past experiences in the minds of the public, tarnishing the reputation of public security and judicial authorities. Face-to-face interactions between individuals involved in criminal cases and the police, prosecutors, and judges, along with negative information obtained through these interactions, contribute to the unfavorable reputation of public security and judicial authorities. This, in turn, forms the basis for negative public judgments on criminal justice, especially in the context of online discussions, where individual cases can have a disproportionate impact due to the sensational nature of self-media.

2.2.4 Transaction Costs

The low cost of self-media, combined with the high returns of influencing "judicial public opinion," externally motivates some irresponsible or impurely motivated evaluations on the internet. For example, in the case of Yao Jiaxin, after the final judgment, his father Yao Qingwei filed a civil lawsuit against the court, claiming that the plaintiff's lawyer, Zhang Xian, fabricated facts on Weibo, portraying Yao Jiaxin as a "second-generation official" or "wealthy second-generation," with the intention of inciting hatred from uninformed individuals. On July 31, 2011, the court ruled that Zhang Xian should publish a public apology on his Weibo and blog for 30 consecutive days, apologize to the plaintiff Yao Qingwei, eliminate the impact, and pay one yuan in mental damage compensation. This ruling essentially determined the illegality of Zhang Xian's online behavior, serving as a warning. However, in terms of cost-benefit analysis, the gains Zhang Xian obtained through self-media in the Yao Jiaxin case were evidently higher than the liability he faced for losing the infringement case.

In terms of expressing public opinions on criminal justice, leveraging self-media provides everyone with an efficient and economical channel for disseminating information. The combination of the internet, smartphones, and social communication tools like Weibo and WeChat significantly reduces the cost of individuals expressing opinions on criminal cases. Traditional media, such as newspapers and television, are more likely to be defendants in defamation lawsuits, and there are numerous examples of them losing such cases. In contrast, discussions in the online world are less likely to result in legal consequences, making the risk of individuals expressing opinions on criminal cases through self-media significantly lower than traditional media. Low transaction costs, to some extent, imply that the public expressing opinions on criminal cases through self-media is a cost-effective behavior.

2.3 Elements System and Interrelationships Influencing Public Judgment

From observing influential litigation cases, we can initially distill the core elements that influence public judgment on criminal justice. However, it's evident that not all elements are included. "It is clear that society is an open system striving for a stable state in the progressive sense, adapted to its environment." When the public makes judgments on criminal cases, the actions taken by individuals involve various social relationships, and these relationships, in turn, affect individual choices. These relationships are not isolated but are part of the structure of the social system. Within the framework of individual rationality and social structure, the elements distilled from individual cases that influence public judgment of criminal justice can be categorized as follows: under the combined influence of various relationships in the social structure, trust, interaction, and reputation, three core elements, directly involve individual rational choices and ultimately impact judicial credibility. These various relationships include information about past behavior, communication between individuals, interconnected groups, the costs of reaching agreements, symmetrical information, common standards, time spans, and other factors. These elements influence the three core elements and, in turn, prompt individuals to make judgments on criminal judgments that they consider to be rational. At the same time, transaction costs as a core external element also directly affect the formation and expression of public opinions on criminal justice. Due to length constraints, the above discussion has only focused on the core elements influencing public judgment on criminal justice, without further elaborating on other relatively open variables.

In summary, the interaction between trust, interaction, and reputation as internal core elements, influenced by the external core element of transaction costs, leads the public to express their opinions or understanding of criminal cases through self-media and other platforms, ultimately affecting judicial credibility. (1) Reputation is fundamental. After a criminal case that attracts public attention occurs, in order to establish a positive interactive relationship and ultimately achieve a positive social outcome, consistent good reputation is needed to move away from confrontation and towards cooperation. Taking criminal reconciliation as an example, the reconciliation process is not as public as a court trial, which makes the trust relationship based on a good reputation even more crucial. Otherwise, criminal reconciliation, originally guided by the value of restoring social justice, is prone to be criticized by the public as forced settlement or "buying off punishment with money." (2) Interaction is a process. The process of forming public opinions is the process of interaction among the public, the parties involved, the public security and judicial authorities, etc., in which a positive or negative level of trust and reputation is established. This process is also the process by which the acceptability and persuasiveness of the outcome of a criminal case are formed. Otherwise, even though the law grants finality to criminal judgments, in practice, it may still become a mere scrap of paper. (3) Trust is a safeguard. In criminal trials, the establishment of judicial authority requires trust from the parties involved and the public towards the public security and judicial authorities. Otherwise, judgments will not be respected, and may even lead to questioning of what was originally a fair judgment. (4) Low cost is a driving force. The lower costs brought about by self-media directly affect the formation and influence of judicial public opinion, especially in terms of information acquisition and communication costs. This has significantly reduced, altering the interaction process between the public and criminal justice, rapidly amplifying the public's impact on the judiciary in the present moment.

3. Quantitative Analysis of Core Elements Affecting Judicial Credibility

The above individual case interpretations regarding impactful litigation cases show that elements such as trustworthiness, reputation, interactivity, etc., influence an individual's rational judgment of criminal cases, which, in turn, affects the collective judgment and evaluation of the general public. These elements become factors influencing judicial credibility. Here, it is necessary to conduct a quantitative analysis of these elements to provide a deeper understanding of the current state of judicial credibility. Specifically, why the public and judicial officials have different evaluations of criminal cases and why the public tends to make negative judgments on criminal cases. In this regard, questionnaire and interview methods are primarily used to conduct exploratory empirical research.

3.1 Method

This survey selected three representative provincial capitals, Hangzhou in the east, Zhengzhou in the central region, and Kunming in the west. The survey was conducted using SPSS 17.0 statistical software. The survey samples were divided into two groups:

The first group consisted of ordinary members of the general public. A questionnaire was used to assess their general judgments, including their trust in the criminal justice system, the reputation of public security and justice agencies, and their understanding of participation in criminal justice and media supervision, among other issues. Sample collection occurred in two steps: (1) Ten points were randomly selected in the surveyed cities. (2) 300 questionnaires were randomly distributed to the general public in the selected sampling points. Of these, 217 valid responses were collected, resulting in an effective rate of 72.3%.

The second group involved a questionnaire survey of grassroots judicial officials to compare the differences in perception between the general public and judicial officials. The data collection process was similar to the method described above. In each city, four grassroots people's courts or people's procuratorates were randomly selected. As a reference, 120 questionnaires were distributed to current personnel in grassroots judicial institutions, and 90 valid responses were collected, resulting in a 75% effective rate. Among the valid questionnaires, 51% were filled out by prosecutors.

By comparing the two survey groups, this study examines the cognitive and evaluative differences between the general public and judicial officials regarding the factors influencing judicial credibility.

3.2 Quantitative Comparison and Correlation Analysis

3.2.1 Regarding the public's trust in the judiciary. 

The survey content is as follows: Do you think the general public currently trusts the public security and judicial authorities? A. Very Trust; B. Fairly Trust; C. Not Very Trust; D. Not Trust at All. The survey results are shown in Table 1.

The survey results indicate that 62.7% of the surveyed public chose "Not Very Trust" in the public security and judicial authorities, and 11.5% of the public chose "Not Trust at All." The sum of these two categories accounts for the majority of respondents. Only two people expressed "Very Trust" in the public security and judicial authorities. During interviews, members of the public who expressed distrust in public security and judicial authorities cited reasons such as judicial injustice, significant judicial corruption, and low professionalism among public security and judicial personnel. This widespread distrust has significantly increased the likelihood of the public expressing negative or critical opinions on social media and other platforms. In contrast, among judicial personnel, 44.4% of respondents believe that the public "Not Very Trust" in public security and judicial authorities, while 46.7% of respondents believe that the public "Fairly Trust" in public security and judicial authorities, with no one choosing "Very Trust." This indicates that judges and prosecutors have gradually recognized the public's lack of trust in public security and judicial authorities, and no one holds an overly optimistic attitude. However, this data still has a significant gap compared to the public's perception.

From Table 2 and the statistical analysis of the correlation coefficient P using SPSS data, it can be seen that the gender differences among the public have a minor impact on the difference in trust in judicial authorities. A significant proportion of both genders express distrust in judicial authorities, and P = 0.09>0.05, indicating a weak correlation between gender and trust. Whether the public trusts judicial authorities is unrelated to gender. Data analysis shows that in the public survey, regional factors have little effect on trust in judicial authorities. However, through statistical analysis, it is found that age and occupation have a high correlation with trust. The correlation coefficient P between age and trust is 0.039>0.05, indicating a close relationship between age and trust. As shown in Table 2, those aged below 20 and above 40 exhibit significant differences in trust in judicial authorities. Regarding occupational factors, there is a significant difference in trust in judicial authorities between those in financial institutions and laborers, which may be related to varying levels of awareness and exposure to the judicial system among different professions. The specific reasons require further investigation.

3.2.2 Reputations of Public Security and Judicial Authorities. 

In a survey regarding public perception of law enforcement and judicial agencies, respondents were asked to evaluate which department had a better image and more credibility: A. Public Security Bureau; B. Procuratorate; C. Court; D. None of them are good; E. All are good.

Regarding the reputation of the three agencies, over half of the surveyed public (53.9%) chose "None of them are good," 25.3% believed the Procuratorate had a better image, 12% thought highly of judges, and 7.8% favored the police. Among judicial professionals surveyed, 24.4% believed the image of public security and judicial authorities was "not good," and only a few individuals thought "all are good." Notably, the public's ranking of the three agencies' images aligned with the choices made by judicial professionals: Procuratorate, followed by the Court, and then Public Security Bureau. The relatively positive image of the Procuratorate might be related to their anti-corruption efforts, and as they have relatively less direct interaction with the public. It's worth mentioning that in recent years, the negative evaluations of the Court have been increasing, and the underlying reasons deserve further exploration.

The factors related to the reputations of the three agencies, as indicated by SPSS statistical results, were generally consistent with the factors mentioned earlier. Gender and region showed weak correlations, while age and occupation exhibited strong correlations. This analysis to some extent confirms that in the age of social media, the online space has broken geographical boundaries.

3.2.3 Public Interaction with Public Security and Judicial Authorities.

This section of the survey focused on the general public's and judges' perceptions of public participation in criminal trials, particularly the roles of people's assessors and people's supervisors, which are representative of public engagement in the judiciary. The questions asked were: Is it valuable for the general public to participate in criminal trials as people's assessors or people's supervisors, in terms of promoting judicial fairness and preventing judicial corruption? A. Just a formality, not very effective; B. Increases the burden on judicial authorities, more harm than good; C. Has a positive impact, but the relevant system needs improvement urgently; D. Extremely valuable, should be implemented according to the existing system.

The survey results showed that among the respondents from the general public, more than half (51.1%) believed that public participation in criminal trials had value, indicating that the system of people's assessors and people's supervisors "has a positive impact, but the relevant system needs urgent improvement." Only 2.3% believed it was "extremely valuable, should be implemented according to the existing system." Among the surveyed judicial professionals, 46.7% chose "has a positive impact, but the relevant system needs improvement urgently," and 20% selected "extremely valuable, should be implemented according to the existing system." Nearly one-third of them held a negative attitude towards the system. This reflects that both the general public and judicial professionals have high expectations for improving the current system of public participation in criminal trials, especially as the general public, while recognizing the value of the system, generally perceives it as imperfect. Many judicial professionals' rejection of the system is also noteworthy.

During interviews, when asked whether they would like to participate as people's assessors in criminal trials, 49.8% of the respondents said they would be "very happy to participate," surpassing those who were "not willing to participate" and "absolutely unwilling to participate." This shows that the public's enthusiasm and willingness to participate in criminal justice are relatively high. Among those who were unwilling to participate, their main reasons included: "It's meaningless, just for show," "My opinion might not matter," "It's just a formality, a waste of time," "I might not be listened to," and "It has little relevance to me." The most common reason was, "Participating as an assessor is just a decoration, without much substantive meaning." This indicates that despite reforms in recent years, the phenomenon of "participation without real influence" still persists in the public's perception, making it difficult to truly mobilize public enthusiasm for participation.

3.2.4 Evaluation of the Supervision of Criminal Justice by New Media. 

Options for the selection of participants in the investigation include: A. Significant drawbacks, seriously affecting the normal handling of cases by judicial authorities. B. Drawbacks outweigh benefits, resulting in certain negative effects. C. Benefits outweigh drawbacks, playing a positive role. D. Highly valuable, playing a significant role in promoting judicial fairness and curbing judicial corruption.

Regarding the role of new media supervision in criminal justice, the general public participating in the survey holds it in high regard. Specifically, 55.2% of the respondents chose "benefits outweigh drawbacks, playing a positive role," and 32.7% believed it was "highly valuable, playing a significant role in promoting judicial fairness and curbing judicial corruption." These data indicate a significant positive public perception of the role of new media in supervising criminal justice and reflect the increasing influence of new media, such as the internet, on criminal justice in recent years. In contrast, the majority of surveyed judicial workers (66.7%) held a negative view, selecting "significant drawbacks, seriously affecting the normal handling of cases." Only 28.9% believed that "benefits outweigh drawbacks." This suggests that judges and prosecutors generally have a strong sense of resistance and a negative evaluation of the involvement of new media. This is likely due to the significant impact that new media has had on criminal justice in recent years, as seen in cases like the Xu Ting and Li Changkui cases. The involvement of new media often places considerable pressure on judges and prosecutors and may have produced certain negative effects. In modern society, the impact of new media on criminal justice is challenging to eliminate, and the negative or avoidance attitude of judicial workers towards new media is clearly an issue that needs attention.

3.3 Regression Analysis

Table 3 further demonstrates that the main factors affecting the public's judgment on the above issues are issues that violate the rule of law and judicial principles, such as coerced confessions, judicial corruption, and judicial injustice.

In Table 3, Model 1 only includes gender and age as variables, and the survey shows that gender and age have no significant correlation with judicial credibility. In Models 2 and 3, attitudes towards coerced confessions, perceptions of judicial corruption, and views on judicial fairness are included as variables. Model 2 shows a significant correlation between attitudes towards judicial corruption and judicial credibility. This means that survey participants who do not view judicial corruption as serious have higher trust in criminal justice. In Model 3, when controlling for participants' judgment of judicial fairness, the importance of the judicial corruption variable disappears. This indicates that an individual's perception of judicial fairness, compared to other variables, has a greater impact on their judgment of judicial credibility.

In Model 4, the variables related to coerced confessions, judicial corruption, and judicial fairness impact the public's judgment of law enforcement agencies, prosecution authorities, and courts. The results show that all three variables are associated with the judgment of law enforcement agencies. As expected, survey participants who make at least one positive evaluation of the three variables are more likely to trust the entire criminal justice system. In their evaluation of law enforcement agencies, prosecution authorities, and courts, the evaluation of law enforcement agencies has the most significant impact on trust in criminal justice. When survey participants believe that the police have relatively positive evaluations in society, the survey shows that this can increase their trust in criminal justice by 35 times. Interestingly, in contrast, the evaluation of prosecutors and judges has an impact of only about 4 times and 9 times, respectively. This suggests that in China's criminal justice system, the image of law enforcement agencies and the enforcement of the police have the most significant impact on public trust in justice. This may be related to the differences in the nature of the work of police, judges, and prosecutors, as well as the differences in the degree of public interaction.

3.4 Conclusion

The above two sets of surveys show that there is a significant difference between the general public's assessment of criminal justice and the perception of grassroots judicial officers regarding criminal justice. What is evident is the low level of trust the public has in criminal justice, and the reputation of the public security judicial authorities is not as good as traditionally believed. There is a need for improvement in the interaction between the public and criminal justice. The preliminary conclusions mentioned above correspond to the current state of public opinion expression in China's criminal justice system, where there are shortcomings in trust, reputation, interaction, and their impact on the public's evaluation and understanding of criminal justice. This ultimately leads to a lack of credibility in the justice system.

Behind the issues of trust, reputation, and interaction, both interviews and regression analysis show that issues such as injustice, judicial corruption, and coerced confessions that violate the principles of the rule of law and judicial norms directly affect the public's trust, reputation, and willingness to engage with the criminal justice system. These issues are exemplified through specific cases and are amplified through the reach of social media, resulting in a broad, negative perception of the criminal justice system. Among these issues, public concern for judicial fairness is particularly notable. Cases that highlight judicial unfairness have a significant impact on the image of public security judicial authorities, which is magnified by the media, overshadowing the positive effects of fair justice in the majority of cases.

4. Rational Public Choices and Enhancing Judicial Credibility

The empirical analysis above provides a preliminary explanation of the factors influencing the public's rational judgment of criminal cases and the differential perceptions between the public and judicial officers. Regarding the improvement of trust, reputation, and interaction, it is essential to consider how to bridge the gap between the public and judicial officers' understanding of criminal justice while respecting individual rationality. This is a crucial issue to address in order to enhance judicial credibility.

4.1 Take the Public's Rational Choices Seriously: The Positive Impact on the Relationship between Justice and Public Opinion

Firstly, the public's expectations should be a direct driving force for the current judicial reform in China. The questionnaire survey in this paper, to some extent, reflects the public's expectations for improving criminal justice. Criticisms of the criminal justice system indicate that there are deficiencies in the current system, and the public expects these deficiencies to be addressed through judicial reform. In recent years, public skepticism of criminal justice has been expressed through various self-media platforms, and this voice should be taken seriously and used as a driving force for judicial reform. Many influential cases demonstrate that public expectations for judicial reform reflected through individual cases can eventually be realized through specific institutional reforms.

Secondly, the research in this paper shows that most of the public's judgments of criminal justice are rational. This is in contrast to the common perception that public opinion, especially on individual cases discussed on online forums, is often seen as irrational. Online discussions are seen as channels for venting frustration and have the characteristics of anonymity and amplification. However, even when these discussions are critical, they are based on underlying reasons. By using general questions to investigate the public's understanding of criminal justice, the responses tend to be relatively pessimistic due to the overall assessment of the current state of society. This reflects that the public's trust in public security judicial authorities is low, and there is a lack of positive interaction between the public and these authorities. This, in turn, influences the public's negative perceptions of abstract concepts such as injustice and judicial corruption. Although these negative assessments sound an alarm for judicial credibility, they are not to be feared. In interviews, many of the criticisms and suggestions made by the respondents are constructive. Suggestions related to safeguarding the rights of defendants, the neutrality of judges, and procedural transparency have practical significance. These suggestions can be considered in the current judicial reform in China, and incorporating the public's reasonable opinions and suggestions can provide a strong basis for judicial reform and greatly facilitate its smooth implementation.

Lastly, to enhance judicial credibility, the focus should be on building trust, improving reputation, and increasing public participation. This involves various reforms, with a focus on the following aspects:

①Using platforms like Weibo, WeChat, websites, and other self-media channels to enhance transparency and openness in criminal justice to create a transparent and accountable judicial system. This is a prerequisite for positive interaction and gaining the trust of the public. New attempts, such as live-streaming court trials on Weibo, have already shown positive results, but the appropriate channels and limits require further empirical research.

②Under the premise of fair trials, be more tolerant of public supervision of criminal justice through self-media. Public security judicial authorities and their personnel should learn to take various criticisms and discussions seriously and engage effectively with the public and those involved. The boundaries of what public supervision can accommodate in a fair trial need further research.

③Establish and improve pathways for ordinary members of society to participate in criminal justice, making the judicial decisions reflect the general sense of justice in society. In modern criminal justice, the jury system is considered the most basic way for the public to participate. In this research, respondents generally had doubts about China's system of people's assessors, highlighting apparent flaws in the system. Continued attention to the reform of the people's assessors system will be a key focus of future reforms.

④Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Law to win the trust of parties involved and the public by ensuring due process. Since the implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Law in 2013, the effectiveness of reforms related to the protection of the rights of the accused, the appearance of witnesses and experts in court, and the strengthening of the right to defense still needs assessment. In the context of ensuring a fair trial for the accused, public participation in criminal justice should be reasonably restricted.

4.2 Following Judicial Rules: Using Judicial Credibility to Restrain Negative Effects of Justice and Public Opinion

Behind behavioral choices are institutional rules and their implementation. The fundamental reasons behind the lack of trust in criminal justice by the public, the poor reputation of public security judicial personnel, and the absence of a constructive interaction, are rooted in public dissatisfaction with issues such as injustice, judicial corruption, and coerced confessions. This stems from the absence of a comprehensive set of rules based on the principles of the rule of law and adherence to judicial norms. Empirical research in this article shows that public perception of judicial fairness is the most significant factor leading to negative evaluations of public security judicial institutions. Achieving judicial fairness clearly requires public security judicial institutions to adhere to the principles of the rule of law and conduct criminal justice activities in accordance with judicial norms. Specifically, in the age of social media, enhancing judicial credibility requires a careful balance between the public, media, and criminal justice while adhering to judicial rules.

Firstly, under the framework of the rule of law and the constitution, the fundamental constitutional rights (powers) of citizens' freedom of speech and the judiciary's independence in judgment are both protected. The right of a fair trial for the accused can serve as a key force in balancing these two rights. Freedom of speech for citizens and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental rights in various national constitutions, and they receive strong support at the constitutional level. Balancing these two rights requires a third perspective and right to measure; the right to a fair trial for the accused can serve as a third element to balance the previous two rights. For example, in the Sheppard v. Maxwell case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the media's significant interference led to a "carnival atmosphere," impacting the accused's right to a fair trial. The collaboration between lawyers and the media on information affected the fairness of criminal trials, leading to the overturning of the guilty verdict. Unlike the U.S. jury trial system, China employs a professional judge system. While safeguarding the accused's right to a fair trial, a relatively broad approach can be taken to public expression in criminal justice.

Secondly, respecting judicial norms and focusing on improving the judicial system with trials at its center. Criminal justice should be carried out within the framework of judicial norms, which is essential for earning public respect and trust and for restraining the negative effects of public opinion on justice. Judicial judgment is the core part of criminal justice and the primary platform for the display of visible justice. This requires China's litigation structure to shift from being investigative-centered to being trial-centered. Criminal trials should strictly apply the law to maintain legal authority, adhere to fair justice to uphold social fairness and justice, rigorously comply with statutory due process, ensure the immediacy and judgment of justice, and maintain the credibility and authority of the judiciary. Mechanisms should be improved to ensure the independent exercise of judicial and prosecutorial powers. Changes in the leadership approach of the party towards judicial work and the adjustment of the relationship between administrative and judicial authorities are necessary to prevent individuals from using social media to unduly influence criminal trials. This necessitates changing the current situation where judicial authorities are excessively controlled by the same-level party committee and government in terms of personnel and finances, standardizing the handling of major cases, and ensuring that all cases are processed according to legal procedures. Moreover, it is important to curb the trend of judicial administrative control, further regulate the relationship between court presidents, judicial committees, and collegiate benches, and establish a scientific and rational judicial performance evaluation system, regulate the selection mechanism for judicial officials, especially senior officials, and continue to promote the professionalization of judicial officials while improving their treatment.

Thirdly, in the face of the negative effects of public opinion on justice, judicial authorities and the government should take action. For judicial authorities, they should actively lead public participation and establish a public opinion guidance mechanism. There is a unique relationship between criminal justice cases and the public's basic sense of justice. In this situation, people's judgment of whether criminal trials are fair and just depends not only on public participation, the openness of trials, or the fairness of procedures but also on the substantive justice reflected in the trial results. Therefore, the aim of expanding public participation is not only to enhance judicial credibility superficially but also to make judges aware of the general sense of justice in society, and to carefully consider public opinions and comments in trials without violating the law and judicial norms, thereby reducing the gap between the judiciary and society. On the other hand, innovative judicial judgments can not only limit the public's passionate and irrational opinions but also guide healthy social opinions.

For the government, respecting judicial norms should start with management innovation and policy guidance, establishing appropriate mechanisms to ensure judges' independent judgments in accordance with the law. Furthermore, concerning virtual behaviors in the online community, the government should actively establish mechanisms for purifying the online virtual space, gradually enact specific regulations for managing the virtual society, and enhance the effectiveness of virtual society norms. Given the current confusion and ineffectiveness of legislation in the virtual society, legislative bodies should expedite the introduction of laws and regulations in the field of information security, personal data protection, etc. Legislative efforts should be made to improve civil, administrative, and criminal legislation in virtual society management.

5. Conclusion

Currently, China is at a critical juncture of judicial reform, and for the judicial system, assessing the level of public trust in judicial operations is of paramount importance. If the credibility of the judiciary is low, it becomes challenging for judicial judgments to garner universal respect and compliance. If a country's judicial system cannot earn public trust and establish its own legitimacy, it will struggle to operate effectively and uphold judicial fairness. This study views the judiciary as a complex engineering project, emphasizing the participation of individuals with subjective agency and examining the process of criminal justice from various societal perspectives. "The most effective trend in law is to view it as a social engine with multiple goals, rather than its intrinsic value." To deepen judicial system reform, it is crucial to adhere to the rule of law and legal principles while addressing real-world social issues and focusing on individuals' personal experiences with the judiciary. This shift in perspective moves us away from vague notions of "judicial public opinion" towards rational choices made by individuals and collective judgment by the public.

To enhance the credibility of the judiciary, it is essential to take the public's choices in the era of self-media seriously and pay attention to the factors influencing the public's judgment of criminal justice. Trust, interaction, and reputation as internal core elements need to reach a positive level to actively strengthen and gradually build a reliable system, enabling the public to make relatively positive assessments and offer "positive energy" opinions when dealing with criminal cases. Both the parties involved and the public, as the key actors in assessing criminal justice, need opportunities for effective participation in the criminal justice system and the establishment of a virtuous interaction. This requires the reliability and enforcement capacity brought by the law enforcement agencies' good reputation, raising the level of cooperation among all parties, and ultimately yielding long-term benefits. By appropriately regulating the online space, malicious and extreme speech in self-media can be made to bear the corresponding costs, thus guiding behavior. Clearing channels for the participation of the parties and the public in criminal justice at a lower cost allows the expression of legitimate demands.

The improvement of trust, reputation, and interaction elements essentially aims to ensure that both the parties involved and the public perceive fairness and justice in every judicial case. On one hand, the parties involved have the right to participate fully in the process, express their opinions, and have a significant influence on the judgment's outcome. On the other hand, the general public can directly participate in the judicial process and oversee it, experiencing both a fair judiciary and embodying the spirit of judicial democracy. Conversely, a non-transparent, procedurally unjust criminal justice system or one that leans towards administrative and local interests, contrary to legal principles, will struggle to gain the trust of the parties involved and the public. Instead, it will lead to more and more people seeking recourse through online self-media and alternative means, attempting to influence criminal justice outside the legal framework, ultimately undermining the credibility of the judiciary.

In summary, enhancing the credibility of the judiciary requires shaping the following relationships between criminal justice and the public while adhering to the principles of the rule of law and respecting legal regulations: trustworthy entities, belief in counterparts with good reputations, engaging in interactive social interactions, and making rational choices under appropriate cost considerations. Applying the theory of factors affecting public judgment to clarify the relationship between the public, self-media, and criminal justice can form the basis for constructing a "visible justice" for the public.