National Court Observation Study

The transcripts of court proceedings used in this book were obtained as part of the National Court Observation Study undertaken within an ARC Linkage Project Grant: The Changing Role of the Magistrates Court (LP 0210306). The study provided data on interactions between magistrates and other major participants—prosecutors, defence representatives and defendants—as well as with some less frequent actors, such as court staff, social welfare, probation or corrections staff.

This research involved observing 27 magistrates conducting a general non-trial criminal list in 30 different court sessions in 20 different locations, including all capital cities, five suburban, and four regional locations in Australia between August 2004 and July 2005. To enhance reliability and limit subjectivity, two researchers undertook the court observations (Mitteness and Barker 2004; Roach Anleu, Bergman Blix, and Mack et al. 2015). With few exceptions, these were Kathy Mack and Sharyn Roach Anleu together; one was always an observer.

Most observation sessions (n - 22) covered the same magistrate in one courtroom for the entire day. The study produced data on 1287 matters. A ‘matter’ was when each defendant’s case was called, regardless of whether the defendant appeared. The magistrates observed include men and women of a range of ages and judicial experience.

In each session, the two observers took detailed notes on standardised pre-printed templates or forms. Observers noted and coded many dimensions of the courtroom interaction, including magistrates’ demeanours towards other court participants (mainly prosecutors, defendants and defence representatives) using five demeanour categories: welcoming or good nat-ured; patient or courteous; routine, businesslike or impersonal; impatient, rushed, inconsiderate or bored; harsh, condescending or rude.

In 27 of the 30 sessions observed, court-prepared transcripts or audio records of the proceedings were made available. (Three sessions were not audiorecorded.) Where audio records were provided, research project staff prepared transcriptions. The transcribed text includes 27 sessions, 24 magistrates and 1111 matters, comprising almost 2000 typed pages.

All transcript excerpts have been given a consistent format rather than retaining the relevant court’s local formatting. M indicates magistrate; DR indicates a defence representative; P indicates a prosecutor; D indicates defendant. Names have been changed, and, on occasion, other details such as dates or location have been removed if they potentially identify a location or participant. As part of the anonymisation process each individual magistrate was assigned a code number from 1 to 27, and each matter allocated a discrete number (from 1 to 1287).

Sharyn Roach Anleu and a research assistant coded this textual data, identifying any instance or kind of emotion, broadly defined. After coding in parallel, the two coders discussed their codes and made changes or additions. This coding process noted specific words or phrases magistrates used to describe their own feelings and their observations and inferences about the emotions of others, such as the defendant, the prosecutor, the defence representative or any other court participants. Magistrates’ actions or conduct could also convey or suggest emotion such as compassion or empathy by referring to feelings of the defendant or victims present in the courtroom. Instances of humour which suggest emotion management strategies were also noted.

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