Procedural Fairness: How to Do It and Why It Matters

More than 200 district court judges from districts across North Carolina convened last week for their semiannual conference. Much of the continuing education agenda was dedicated to informing judges about the controlling law for the types of cases over which they preside—criminal, family and juvenile. But one session had a different focus. Instead of teaching judges how to “get outcomes right,” Judges Kevin Burke and Steve Leben talked to the group about how to handle procedural matters in a “way that enhances perceptions of fair treatment.” Kevin Burke & Steve Leben, The Evolution of the Trial Judge from Counting Case Dispositions to a Commitment to Fairness, 18 Widener L. J. 397, 403-04 (2009) [hereinafter Evolution]. The presenters made the case that institutionalizing principles and practices of procedural fairness can increase public support for and confidence in the courts, leading to greater acceptance of court decisions, greater public approval of the court system and increased compliance with court orders.

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