Ritual in Court

Van 1992 tot 1996 heb ik empirisch onderzoek gedaan naar communicatieproblemen tussen rechters en Turkse verdachten in de Nederlandse rechtszaal. Het bleek niet zozeer om communicatieproblemen, maar om ritueel te gaan. In 1998 ben ik op het onderzoek gepromoveerd.

Appearing before the judge The dos and don’ts of standing trial and the ritual of Turkish defendants in court
PhD, University of Amsterdam, 1998


In this study a look in court has been taken. Not only have we taken a look at how defendants are supposed to behave in Dutch courtrooms, we have also examined the behaviour of foreign defendants who appear on stage in Dutch courts. When defendants with cultural backgrounds other than Dutch appear in court, one can expect that among their “cultural luggage” one can find some typical demeanour which in the defendant’s viewpoint is appropriate in the presence of a judge. This demeanour of foreign defendants in the courtroom and their inclination to act in certain ways, as is made clear in the first chapter A look in the Courtroom, has never been the subject of any previous studies. Admittedly, past studies have com-piled courtroom material, but the central focus was on an analysis of court hearings functioning within a broader framework. These studies could be categorised according to the central research questions focusing on the amount of punishment, the use of power, communication, and the symbolic dimensions of courtroom practice. None of these studies examine the suspects themselves and their contribution to the event in court.

This study, in contrast, zeroes in on the defendants, and on how to typify the behaviour of foreign defendants in court. The amount of punishment is of no concern in this study, neither is the data which is found in the dossiers. The formulation of the problem addressed in this study is whether the behaviour of foreign defendants can be interpreted univocally within the current and accepted interpretative context of court hearings in which judges take the social/cultural background of defendants into account, and when for some be-haviour this is not possible, if the framework in which this behaviour is typified as ritual, is more adequate. Therefore the first thing to study is how defendants in general are supposed to behave in Dutch courtrooms. Following this the interpretative context of court hearings has to be made visible, in order to show how behaviour of defendants is evaluated and judged. When subsequently it can indeed be demonstrated that the common interpretative framework is yielding inconsistent interpretations in case a foreign defendant (in this case a Turkish defendant) shows up in court, consequently the question can be investigated and answered whether some of the behaviour of foreign defendants when typified as ritual, and thus within another framework, can be provided with a consistent and hence better interpretation.

See the Files page for the summary in English and de Nederlandse samenvatting van het proefschrift. You will also find the article ‘Showing Respect’ about the posture of a Turkish defendant in a Dutch court’.

Het proefschrift Verschijnen voor de rechter is in 1998 verschenen bij Uitgeverij Duizend en Eén.

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