Holder, Robyn Lea
JUST INTERESTS: Victims, citizens and the potential for justice
As a social and legal value, justice is a highly contextual and contested construct. In this thesis the ideal of and ideas about justice are told mainly through the narratives of ordinary people victimised by violence who then engage with the criminal justice process. Mapped alongside is the discourse of elite legal officials that sketch the discursive underpinnings to an institutional ideology about justice. For both – ordinary...[Show more] people and official elite – this is ‘justice in the real world’.
The stories of these two groupings are often posed in counterpoint. Rather than call for complete or partial redesign of state administered justice, I explore the ways in which peoples’ thinking – from below – opens the space for justice that accommodates both public and private interests. In doing so, I refocus attention on the social and political status of the victim as a citizen first. Their institutional interactions create an engagement with justice that constitutes a practice of citizenship.
When mobilising law, the victim-citizen draws upon an architecture of beliefs and values that operate in a particular time and space. Diverse ideas and images about justice open lines of action and stimulate attention to different objects of value. I find these cohere on a trilogy of relational interests: victim, offender and community. This justice trilogy accommodates multiple goals which are themselves accompanied by varied criteria and explanation. Face-to-face interviews conducted on three occasions with victim-citizens in a longitudinal prospective panel as they interact with different justice entities reveals these goals as partially ordered. The sequencing of these justice goals – whatever the differing priorities –allows public and private interests to be arranged and accommodated in a communicative process.
However, after recording high levels of satisfaction with police intervention, the victim-citizen’s satisfaction with prosecution and court tumbles, and does not recover even six months after the case is finalised at court. Unpacking what lies behind this assessment reveals a rich dimensionality to justice judgments. Here reasoning about outcome, interpersonal treatment, voice, and respect for the offender is layered, nuanced and affirms the contingent nature of justice in different settings. Perhaps inevitably the resolutions experienced are partial and incomplete.
The longitudinal design of the thesis not only reveals people’s thinking as responsive, contextual and dynamic but was indispensable in identifying the importance of interaction with public authorities. I show that victim-citizens want a voice that is influential, but they do not wish to dominate decision makers. They recognise justice as a unique public space in which they expect equal concern and respect accorded to the justice interests of their trilogy. I show victim-citizens were primarily interested in participatory opportunities that came after an authoritative finding. Justice emerges as a communal construct.
The structured opening provided through law is an opportunity for people to rise to the demands their citizenship entails. Both justice and democracy lie at this point of convergence where the capacity of directly affected citizens is engaged.
Items in Open Research are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.