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Procedural Justice


Lawrence B. Solum


Georgetown University Law Center


Southern California Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 181, 2004

Abstract:     
"Procedural Justice" offers a theory of procedural fairness for civil dispute resolution. The core idea behind the theory is the procedural legitimacy thesis: participation rights are essential for the legitimacy of adjudicatory procedures. The theory yields two principles of procedural justice: the accuracy principle and the participation principle. The two principles require a system of procedure to aim at accuracy and to afford reasonable rights of participation qualified by a practicability constraint.

The Article begins in Part I, Introduction, with two observations. First, the function of procedure is to particularize general substantive norms so that they can guide action. Second, the hard problem of procedural justice corresponds to the following question: How can we regard ourselves as obligated by legitimate authority to comply with a judgment that we believe (or even know) to be in error with respect to the substantive merits?

The theory of procedural justice is developed in several stages, beginning with some preliminary questions and problems. The first question - what is procedure? - is the most difficult and requires an extensive answer: Part II, Substance and Procedure, defines the subject of the inquiry by offering a new theory of the distinction between substance and procedure that acknowledges the entanglement of the action-guiding roles of substantive and procedural rules while preserving the distinction between two ideal types of rules. The key to the development of this account of the nature of procedure is a thought experiment, in which we imagine a world with the maximum possible acoustic separation between substance and procedure.

Part III, The Foundations of Procedural Justice, lays out the premises of general jurisprudence that ground the theory and answers a series of objections to the notion that the search for a theory of procedural justice is a worthwhile enterprise. Sections II and III set the stage for the more difficult work of constructing a theory of procedural legitimacy.

Part IV, Views of Procedural Justice, investigates the theories of procedural fairness found explicitly or implicitly in case law and commentary. After a preliminary inquiry that distinguishes procedural justice from other forms of justice, Part IV focuses on three models or theories. The first, the accuracy model, assumes that the aim of civil dispute resolution is correct application of the law to the facts. The second, the balancing model, assumes that the aim of civil procedure is to strike a fair balance between the costs and benefits of adjudication. The third, the participation model, assumes that the very idea of a correct outcome must be understood as a function of process that guarantees fair and equal participation. Part IV demonstrates that none of these models provides the basis for a fully adequate theory of procedural justice.

In Part V, The Value of Participation, the lessons learned from analysis and critique of the three models are then applied to the question whether a right of participation can be justified for reasons that are not reducible to either its effect on the accuracy or its effect on the cost of adjudication. The most important result of Part V is the Participatory Legitimacy Thesis: it is (usually) a condition for the fairness of a procedure that those who are to be finally bound shall have a reasonable opportunity to participate in the proceedings.

The central normative thrust of Procedural Justice is developed in Part VI, Principles of Procedural Justice. The first principle, the Participation Principle, stipulates a minimum (and minimal) right of participation, in the form of notice and an opportunity to be heard, that must be satisfied (if feasible) in order for a procedure to be considered fair. The second principle, the Accuracy Principle, specifies the achievement of legally correct outcomes as the criterion for measuring procedural fairness, subject to four provisos, each of which sets out circumstances under which a departure from the goal of accuracy is justified by procedural fairness itself.

In Part VII, The Problem of Aggregation, the Participation Principle and the Accuracy Principle are applied to the central problem of contemporary civil procedure - the aggregation of claims in mass litigation. Part VIII offers some concluding observations about the point and significance of Procedural Justice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 143

Keywords: procedure, justice, alternative dispute resolution, litigation, administrative law, due process

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K40, K41

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Date posted: December 17, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Solum, Lawrence B., Procedural Justice. Southern California Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 181, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=636721

Contact Information

Lawrence B. Solum (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
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