Adversarial Case-Making

An Ethnography of English Crown Court Procedure


Cases are not objects at hand for legal decision-making; cases are not echoes from a past crime. Cases are, first of all, made within compound discourse apparatus, here the English Crown Court and the procedure/s attached to it. This book reveals the legal production of cases including their relevant features. The socio-legal ethnography visits the natural sites of adversarial case-making: law firms, barristers’ chambers, and Crown Courts. It examines the role and dynamics of client-lawyer meetings, pre-trial hearings, plea bargaining sessions, and jury trials. It focuses on the lawyers’ case-making activities, their procedural contexts, and the resulting cases. As an ethnographic discourse study, the book develops a trans-sequential perspective on the interrelated events and processes of case-making – and by doing so, overcomes the shortcomings of talk-bias and text-bias. The trans-sequential approach pays out in detailed case studies on an alibi, on guilt, or the barrister’s notes; it pays out as well in cross-case studies dealing with legal care, procedural infrastructure, or the case system in the common law tradition.
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Biographical Note

Thomas Scheffer led the law-in-action Research Group. Currently he is Heisenberg scholar at the Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany. He published on communication/ knowledge processes in migration control, social work, parliamentary inquiries, and legal casework. His research interests include micro-sociology, sociology of knowledge, political ethnography, and cultural comparison/translation. Scheffer is spokesperson of the section “sociology of law” in the German Sociological Association.

Review Quote

The book will prove eye-opening for those considering entering the legal profession, either as solicitor or barrister. [...] Adversarial Case-Making’s ethnographic and micro-sociological methods provide insights that cannot be achieved other than through years of fieldwork and the filing, coding and categorizing of mountains of ethnographic data, such as files, documents, meeting notes, transcripts and archive material. Reviewed by Lisa Vanhala, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Human Rights Law & Politics Book Review, 2011, pp. 693-695.

Table of contents

List of Figures Foreword Introduction On field access Rendering case-making observable Outlook 1. A case of assault: The rise and fall of an alibi The ontological versions of the alibi-story and its analysability The rise of the alibi Intermezzo The story’s decline Towards the duality of mobilisation 2. Framing law-in-action Where and when is the field? Event and process in Social Theory Eventful process, processed events Weighing event and process Outlook: the adversarial procedure as eventful process 3. A case of indecent assault: Fitting sleep-walking expertise in Interrogating a single case Expert evidence in criminal proceedings Sleep-walking expertise and its relevant other knowledges Discussion: Distributed knowing and judicial decision-making 4. File-work and procedural care Styles of file-work in a criminal law firm Good reasons for different styles of file-work Conclusion: Legal care in context 5. A case of wounding with intent: The barrister’s day in court Before trial The barrister’s work during trial The closing speech Conclusion: The minutiae of case-representation 6. Procedural resources and procedural infrastructure The court The file The story Towards procedural infrastructure 7. A case of murder: No regret! Direct and indirect moralising The moralising sites in a Crown Court case Discussion: Characteristics and rationale of indirect moralising 8. The case in the case-system The case as tripartite sign Case, fact-sensitive Case, ruled and ruling Case, decision-oriented The archive of the case-system Off the case: Components in isolation Conclusion: The micro-foundations of adversarialism Mechanisms of case-making Complexities of case-making Epilogue References Index


All those interested in the workings of law and how legal cases come about through systematic writing, filing, and talking.