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Substantive justice is often seen as elusive in courts dominated by low-income individuals. Complex court rules, coupled with pervasive lack of counsel, can make it difficult for the traditional adversary process to identify and redress legitimate grievances. This Article takes on the social problem of substandard housing and examines whether inquisitorial procedure has the potential to produce accurate outcomes in a tribunal dominated by the unrepresented.

Relying on in-court observations of nearly 300 hearings, and a longitudinal review of nearly 75 cases, this Article surfaces the regularized procedures utilized by a purported “problem-solving” housing court, and theorizes that the inquisitorial features of judicially controlled investigation and enforcement may motivate landlords to repair substantiated housing code violations. This Article adds nuance to our understanding of informal justice by identifying the hidden procedural formalisms that may guide alternative decision-making processes. Furthermore, it evaluates the relationship of one iteration of experimental formalism to substantive justice, and suggests that inquisitorial procedures may be correlated with improved accuracy in case outcomes.

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GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2015-48; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-48

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