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Courts And Power Relations Essay

1495 words - 6 pages

The courtroom is a ritualised space, involving costume, language, spatial organisation and so on, and courts, therefore, constitute performative exercises of power. Discuss some of the ways in which courts demonstrate power and/or power relations.

The courtroom is a ritualised space in which many features are effectively manipulated to demonstrate the states power over the individual. It is because of such displays of power that the courtroom is commonly identified as a place of justice where social order is upheld. Upon observing civil courtrooms 5.1 and 5.6 it was clear that the architecture and spatial organisation of the room plays a significant role in displaying the various power relations between the courtroom actors. Interior features such as structural elevation, spatial organisation, lighting, entrances and design effectively highlight power disparities. Furthermore language was a vital factor in the determination of one’s status within the courtroom. Differentiations of power were evident through the use of legal terminology, the contrast of formal language and colloquialism, and the manipulation of rhetoric in cross-examinations.

The architecture of the courtroom establishes clear power disparities within the courtroom setting. The physical dimensions of Courtroom 5.1 were organised in such a way that the hierarchal nature of the court is visually clear from the moment you step into the room. The stratification of power amongst the courtroom actors is displayed through the ‘structural elevation’ of the seating (Carlen, 1976, pp. 50). The magistrate is seated at the uppermost level at the bench facing the defendant, solicitors and public gallery. This particular positioning demonstrates pre-eminence which allows complete control and power over the courtroom to reside with the magistrate. Moreover the Royal Coat of Arms is symbolically situated above the bench to enforce the notion that the magistrate is representative of the Crown (Judiciary.gov.uk, 2014). It was also observed that carved into the wood of the bench were intricate designs which portrayed a sense of importance and significance. This was in stark contrast to the plan wooden table at which the defendant and lawyers sat.

On the contrary to the magistrate, the defendant, solicitors and police prosecution were not seated on a platform .Their positioning was significantly lower than the magisterial bench which is parallel to their inferiority to the magistrate. The juxtaposition between these levels projects a sense of intimidation which facilitates the submissive behaviour of those in the lower seating thus allowing the magistrate to exercise complete power. This behaviour was observed in both courtrooms where the defendant was completely acquiescent to the judge.

The power and significance of the magistrate was also clear through the ‘staged and heralded’ entrance (Carlen, 1976, pp. 50). Whilst the public gallery and the other courtroom actors entered the room...

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