Law, Time – and Folded Objects

Contemporary approaches in science and technology studies are increasingly pointing to the role of time and temporality in shaping scientific knowledge production. Can we draw on this same sensibility to make sense of legal practices of case-making?

Within legal practices, time is of the essence. Procedure introduces the necessity to take stock of precise dates and times, while judges draw on the case file to make a decision in the here-and-now about the there-and-then of the offence. The case file is crucial to these efforts: as a folder of documents, it is also a folder of these multiple temporalities.

Austen’s Axiom 40″ x 40″, Jeanne Vadeboncoeur (2018)

On the one hand, the case file carefully traces its own procedural path through times and space, while on the other it transforms facts in such a way that they can be used in the future – that is, in Court. It mobilizes temporalities of different kinds: the historical events in question, narrated and accounted for in witness descriptions, police reports, victim and suspect statements; and the time of procedure, which is carefully traced by means of stamps, signatures, and other authorizing techniques. These temporalities are rendered explicit in the case file. Yet there is also the history of the case file’s production, consisting of situated interactions between police officers and witnesses, victims and suspects. These histories are only visible in small traces, in oblique references. Yet they may become crucial to the case, for instance when these traces seem to suggest that the prosecutor did not ensure that due diligence was taken, or if they suggest that police officers have ‘massaged’ their transcripts of the interaction with the suspect.

In highlighting these temporalities and the role they may play in Court, I conceptualize the case file as a folded object. In Chapter 6 of The Law Multiple, I write that:

objects are not simply used “in time,” but that they both enact and render invisible different times themselves. Drawing on this notion, I am interested, first, in how the legal case file folds within it multiple histories in its effort to render history (the offence in question) available; and second, how the case file may itself become the object of un- and refolding practices in the making and remaking of that same historical event. (p. 147)

I unpack how these temporalities and histories of different sorts come to play a role in truth-finding efforts in Court, and how actors, most notably the defence, may mobilize certain of the case file’s hidden, invisible histories in what I have called moments of temporal interference:

In emphasizing the making of multiple temporalities this chapter has paid specific attention to phenomena we can now start to recognize as moments of temporal interference: that is, the moments in which the time of procedure, the time of the file’s production, and chronological time cannot be neatly kept apart but rather interfere with each other to produce barriers to truth making. In each of the cases drawn on in this chapter, the time of procedure, the time of the production of the file, and the time of the offense are evoked and “brought to life” simultaneously, producing a situation both propitious (for the defendant and lawyer) and challenging (to the prosecutor). These moments of temporal interference demonstrate that, while great care is taken to set the procedural stage for truth making, such efforts do not necessarily succeed. Procedure, as well as the times and places of the case file’s production, can be evoked to bar access to the truth. (p. 162)

As an additional recourse to think about the practical making and mobilization of time in legal practice, check this wonderful collection of chapters edited by Sian Beynon Jones and Emily Grabham! Their introductory chapter is available as an open access pdf.

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