Better access to better justice: The potential of procedural reform

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Access to Justice, Civil Procedure, Administrative Procedure


When proposals are made to reform legal procedure, improving access to justice is often identified as the goal. What does access to justice mean in this context? This article proposes that “better access” and “better justice” should be understood as two distinct goals. Access improves when procedural costs confronting litigants (and potential litigants) are reduced. Justice has three qualities – substantive justice, procedural justice, and public justice – which legal procedure can produce to a greater or lesser degree. Although access and justice are sometimes in tension as goals for procedural reform, they are also harmonious. Better access to better justice is a worthy goal for procedural reformers. Welfare-consequentialism is introduced in the final part of the article, as a way to focus access to justice reforms and make the necessary tradeoffs. This article’s argument is illustrated throughout by three procedural reform trends – mandatory mediation, small-dollar procedure, and inquisitoriality.