The Effect of Terrorism on Judicial Confidence

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 790 –802
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917716337
Why is confidence in the judicial system so low in a
country like Great Britain? British popular confidence in
the judicial system lags behind British confidence in
other state institutions (Van de Walle 2009) and lags well
behind most of its democratic peers in Western Europe
(Bühlmann and Kunz 2011). A comparison of European
survey data places British confidence in the judicial sys-
tem closer to the mass-level confidence in judicial sys-
tems in nondemocracies like Azerbaijan and Ukraine
than democratic peers like Denmark or Iceland. This is
curious because the British judicial system shows numer-
ous benchmarks that should inspire widespread public
confidence. The ability of the judicial process to resolve
commercial disputes and enforce contracts places the
British system as No. 6 in the world for judicial quality
and efficiency (World Bank Group 2016). Its time to
resolution from submission of a claim is among the best
in Europe and the world. Civil liberty and due process
protections are also strong in the United Kingdom. Its
protection of political rights and civil liberties gives the
United Kingdom a 95 of 100 in the 2016 Freedom House
rankings (Freedom House 2016), which ties United
Kingdom with many of its democratic peers for No. 6 in
the world. Judicial independence data (e.g., Cingranelli,
Richards, and Clay 2014) give further confidence that
the British judicial system is independent from the
influence of other state or societal actors. Yet, confidence
in the British judicial system lags behind confidence in
other British institutions and judicial confidence else-
where in Western Europe.
The independence the British judicial system enjoys may
actually be part of the problem. The United Kingdom, unlike
Denmark and Iceland, has a long history of terror threats.
This had historically been the Irish Republican Army though
recent threats involve Islamist terror groups like Al-Qaeda
or the Islamic State. The British judicial response to these
terror threats stands at odds with executive-led initiatives in
countries like Australia and the United States after September
11, 2001 (Roach 2011) or the symbiotic executive–judiciary
relationship that France had implemented in 1986. The
British judicial system institutes numerous legal protections
for terror suspects—including automatic legal representa-
tion during interrogations and a high threshold for charging
a suspect with terror-related offenses—that diverges from
the French model of counterterrorism. British politicians
even express envy at the more “flexible,” security-oriented
judicial response to terrorism in France (Foley 2013). It is
716337PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917716337Political Research QuarterlyMiller
1Clemson University, SC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Steven V. Miller, Department of Political Science, Clemson University,
232 Brackett Hall, Clemson, SC 29634-1354, USA.
The Effect of Terrorism
on Judicial Confidence
Steven V. Miller1
Independent judiciaries prevent democratic reversals, facilitate peaceful transitions of power, and legitimate democracy
among citizens. We believe this judicial independence is important for citizen-level judicial confidence and faith in
democratic institutions. I challenge this and argue that citizens living under terror threats lose confidence in their
independent judiciaries. Terror threats lead citizens to enable the state leader to provide counterterrorism for their
security, which has important implications for interbranch relations between the executive and the judiciary. Citizens
lose confidence in independent judiciaries that provide due process for suspected terrorists. I test my argument with
mixed effects models that incorporate the Global Terrorism Database and four waves of European Values Survey. The
analyses demonstrate the negative effects of terror threats on judicial confidence when interacting terror threats with
measures of judicial independence. My findings have important implications for the study of democratic confidence
and the liberty-security dilemma.
terrorism, judicial confidence, judicial independence, liberty-security dilemma

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