Melbourne Law School
Room 224, Level 2
185 Pelham St
Carlton VIC 3053

Convened by
Associate Professor Shaun McVeigh

Formal adjudication is touted as an alternative to subjective decision making, a process constrained by objective rules and standards that can justify enforcing judicial outcomes. Yet courtrooms are sites of intense emotional drama, really more like theaters than laboratories.  For centuries, critics have attacked the histrionic aspects of legal process as a trumped up show that fascinates and distracts us from the reality of injustice outside the courtroom.

I agree that adjudication is a performance. But, in my view, the very obvious artificiality of that performance may be its saving grace.  Courtroom performances do not produce objectively truthful representations of the world as it is and uniquely correct applications of law to that world. They may provide some relative legitimacy for enforcement, however, by enacting a patently illusory ideal justice and confronting us with the gap between that ideal and our lived reality.

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About the presenter

Jessie Allen is an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches jurisprudence, property and legal ethics.  Her current scholarship considers how traditional legal authorities and practices might contribute to a distinctive rule of law, other than by determining substantive legal outcomes. She is the author of the blog, Blackstone Weekly, exploring how the iconic eighteenth-century legal treatise, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, can illuminate twenty-first-century law and culture.