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Emotions in Legal Practices: Historical and Modern Attitudes Compared

Date: 26-28 September 2016 (commencing with a public lecture by Prof. Annalise Acorn, at 6pm on 26 September in the Law School Foyer, Level 2, New Law School, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney).
Venue: Holme Building Refectory, Science Rd, The University of Sydney, 2006
Symposium organisers: Merridee Bailey (The University of Adelaide) and Kimberley-Joy Knight (The University of Sydney)
Enquiries:  Jacquie Bennett (jacquie.bennett@adelaide.edu.au)
Registration: Registration is free, but essential as places are limited

Register here

 Download conference flyer

 Download Program

Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar (PATS): Following the conference there will be an associated PATS for which limited bursaries will be available. The PATS will be convened by David Lemmings (History, The University of Adelaide and Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions) and Kathryn Temple (English, Georgetown University, USA). 

Download PATS flyer


Confirmed keynote speakers

Confirmed speakers

Katie Barclay (The University of Adelaide)
'Women’s Emotions in the Irish Court, c.1800-1845'
Alecia Simmonds (University of Technology Sydney)
'Love’s Losses: Breach of Promise of Marriage and the Medicalisation of Heartbreak (1910-1950)'
Sarah Sorial (University of Wollongong)
'Anger and the Problem of Self-control: The Defence of Provocation'
Jason Taliadoros (Deakin University)
'Iniuria and the Role of Emotions in the Development of the Early English Common Law'
Kathryn Temple (Georgetown University)
'Just Emotions: William Blackstone and the Enlightenment Paradigm'
Renata Grossi (Australian National University)
'Does Law and Emotion Scholarship Change the Meaning of Law?'

Dr Michael Proeve (The University of Adelaide)
Dr Kate Rossmanith (Macquarie University, Sydney)
Dr Steven Tudor (La Trobe University, Melbourne)
Joint paper: 'Courtroom Contrition: Remorse and the Absence of Remorse in Australian Sentencing Decisions'

Sharyn Roach Anleu and Kathy Mack (Flinders University)
'Impartiality and Emotion in Everyday Judicial Practice'

Maggie Hall (Western Sydney University)
'Legal Sentencing vs The Lived Sentence'
David Lemmings and Amy Milka (The University of Adelaide)
'Emotions in the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Courtroom'

Jill Hunter (University of New South Wales)
'Judging by the Heart? Justice and the Exclusion of Women as Jurors in the Twentieth Century'

Conference abstract

In 2015, The Hon Mr Justice Peter Openshaw urged the jury of a murder case in the United Kingdom to judge the case ‘coldly, calmly and dispassionately’ while, in that same year, The Hon Mr Justice James Dingemans advised the jury of another young woman’s murder to arrive at their decision ‘without emotion’. In both cases the judges referred to the presence of emotion and drew a clear distinction between decisions arrived at emotionally and those arrived at dispassionately. Given the high profile nature of both of these cases, and the media interest that surrounded them, the judges’ instructions publically set out an image of the courtroom as a space where heightened emotions are present and also as a space where emotions should be set aside.

Throughout history, attitudes towards emotions in legal contexts have been conflicted. Today many assume that Western legal practice was embedded firmly in the perception that upholding the law required dispassion and that undisciplined emotions could dangerously undercut the ability for judges and juries to make rational decisions. Emotion had no role in the creation, interpretation, reception or practice of the law. However, in the last two decades there has been an ever-increasing volume of academic work by legal historians, philosophers, social scientists and legal practitioners that paints a very different picture of the role of emotions in the law. This work both questions whether this picture was true historically by investigating historical legal systems and it also looks to modern courtrooms and the role that emotion does and should – or should not – play there today. At the same time, there has been a much wider movement in the social sciences, humanities and cognitive sciences to acknowledge the importance of human experience and to understand emotion not simply as a departure from rationality.

However, the case is not so clear-cut that legal practitioners and scholars have all accepted the legitimate place of emotions in legal disputes. Many historians and legal scholars may now recognise that emotions permeate and enhance legal decision-making but is there still a disjuncture between academic theory and the practice of the law? Has the pendulum managed to swing far enough into actual courtrooms and legal spaces? Why do those in the legal sphere often struggle to relinquish their rationalist premises? What is at stake in upholding one stance over another? Given the ‘emotional turn’ in scholarship, are we in danger of according emotions too great a place in legal practice? Are we dangerously privileging emotions as ‘right’ or ‘sincere’ because they are ‘human’?

This interdisciplinary conference aims to stimulate genuine debate and encourage serious reflection on the enduring ‘problem’ of rationality and emotions.Our aim is for scholars and legal practitioners to bring their different disciplinary expertise to reconsider collectively the role of emotions in legal practices both historically and today and, potentially, inform new legal policies.

Important dates

Opening public lecture: 26 September 2016 (evening)

Conference: 27-28 September 2016