Performing Authority: Communicating Judicial Decisions in Lower Criminal Courts

Sharyn Roach Anleu, Kathleen Mack

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    In the courtroom legal authority must be performed by the presiding judicial officer. It is also a social situation where information and emotions must be managed in face-to-face interactions. This paper investigates how magistrates perform their authority in the delivery of decisions in open court. An observational study of criminal cases in Australian lower courts shows that magistrates communicate sentencing decisions in a distinct manner. Magistrates frequently look and speak directly to the person being sentenced (the defendant), in line with everyday conversational conventions, and preface their decision with explanations, which allow for some engagement with the defendant. When delivering other kinds of decisions (in criminal cases), such as adjournments, magistrates display less engagement with the defendant. These findings underscore the important ways in which the embodied presence of the defendant and the interactional dimensions of the courtroom can impact on the legal process and the legitimacy of judicial authority.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1052-1069
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Sociology
    Issue number4
    Early online date2015
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


    • authority
    • criminal courts
    • law magistrates
    • sentencing


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