Malawi's democratic Constitution of 1994 shifted the law in a pro-poor direction. With the judiciary emerging as a surprisingly strong institution in an otherwise weak political system, one might expect a body of pro-poor jurisprudence to develop. This has not been the case, and this article investigates why.

Afterconsidering patterns of poverty and the role of law in the dynamicsof economic marginalization in Malawi, we examine factors assumedto influence the use of courts by the economically marginalized,the strength of their legal voice, and the response of the courtsto poor people's social rights claims. We find an interplaybetween factors impeding the demand for pro-poor justice aswell as its supply: lack of litigation resources; high accessbarriers; the pull of alternative institutions; and the natureof Malawi's legal culture.