CfP: International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice – The politics of (in)formality in criminal procedures

Call for Abstracts – Special Issue:

The politics of (in)formality in criminal procedures

Manuscript submission information:

Call for abstracts: Special issue of the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice (IJLCJ)

The politics of (in)formality in criminal procedures

Guest editors: Kei Hannah Brodersen, Nadja Capus, Damian Rosset, University of Neuchâtel

Abstract submission deadline: 1 November 2021 (see detailed timeline below)

The tension between formality and informality is intrinsic to the implementation of criminal law. Criminal procedures in fact always happen on a continuum between formality and informality, where the different actors involved (police officers and other street-level bureaucrats, prosecutors, judges, experts, defense lawyers, etc.) continuously perform and negotiate (in)formality. In this special issue, we aim to explore these “politics of (in)formality” in different criminal law settings and from different disciplinary perspectives.

On the one hand, formality is essential in ensuring due process and fulfilling the requirements of rules of procedures throughout prosecution, as well as to legitimize the institution of criminal justice. The formalization of action and interactions, through norms of behavior and documentation fosters important rule of law principles such as the legal certainty and the prevention of arbitrariness, transparency, or equality of arms.

On the other hand, criminal law in action, that is its concrete implementation, relies by nature on the informality of social interactions, for instance, between the suspect and the police, between the defense and the prosecution, among colleagues, among jury members, or between authorities in different states involved in the same procedure. The increasing number of procedural requirements for formalization through documentation is often considered a burden on procedural actors, especially those conducting the investigations. At a systemic level, this burden also weighs negatively on the efficiency of criminal justice, as formalization is resource-intensive.

Producing formality is a constitutive part of law implementation, as well as a specific task of its actors involved. One obvious manifestation of formalization is the production of procedural artefacts, in particular through written documentation. As an example, case files reflect a specific formalization of the prosecution process, a narrative of the case constructed through selection and entextualization, in a way that makes it coherent and usable for judicial decision-making. Legal case files and other procedural artefacts not only formalize the transition from common-sense facts to legal facts , but also make visible specific kinds of actions, interactions and agencies, while silencing other facets of the procedure. By making the workings of criminal justice system legible through documentation, judicial and administrative organizations signal their accountability, foster their legitimacy, and contribute to fair truth-finding.

The roles and functions performed by the different actors in criminal justice also point to the theatrical dimension of (in)formalization, as (in)formality of situations and interactions in criminal procedures is constructed and negotiated between actors with important power differentials. For example, police officers and prosecutors mobilize (in)formality by creating particular investigative settings or determining what is put on record and what remains off the record.

That way, the choice for either formalization or informalization is reflected in criminal law enforcement strategies. The latter is a timely issue as national legislators increasingly create explicit spaces for (more or less constrained) informality within settlement procedures allowing negotiation and a high level of prosecutorial discretion.

In this special issue of the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice (IJLCJ), we aim to explore processes of formalization and informalization at play in the implementation of criminal law from an empirical perspective. We are especially interested in how formality and informality are produced, negotiated and implemented in criminal proceedings by the miscellaneous actors, professional groups, and judicial institutions involved. We welcome contributions from all legal and social scientific disciplines based on a variety of empirical data: criminal case files, interviews, observation, etc. They could address – but are not limited to – the following questions:

  • How is (in)formality performed in criminal proceedings? What examples of the formality-informality continuum exist? How do procedural actors manage the (in)formality of specific settings and interactions?
  • What impact does (in)formality have on power asymmetries within criminal justice systems? How is (in)formality mobilized to reinforce or contest these power asymmetries?
  • What are the mechanisms that regulate (in)formality in the implementation of criminal law? How is the formality-informality continuum controlled?
  • What are the legitimizing functions of the production of (in)formality? What rationalities of justice and legitimacy are conveyed in processes of (in)formalization? What are the consequences of increasing informality (or formality) in the criminal process?
  • How does studying (in)formalization shed light on how judicial institutions produce knowledge, both about their inner workings and the legal cases they process?


1 November 2021 Abstract submission deadline

12 November 2021 Selection of abstracts

31 March 2022 Journal submission deadline

Afterwards Peer-review and revision process

Late 2022/early 2023 Publication of the special issue (tentative)

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