Research Handbook on Law and Courts
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Research Handbook on Law and Courts

Edited by Susan M. Sterett and Lee D. Walker

The Research Handbook on Law and Courts provides a systematic analysis of new work on courts as governing institutions. Authors consider how courts have taken on regulating fundamental categories of inclusion and exclusion, including citizenship rights. Courts’ centrality to governance is addressed in sections on judicial processes, sub-national courts, and political accountability, all analyzed in multiple legal/political systems. Other chapters turn to analyzing the worldwide push for diversity in staffing courts. Finally, the digitization of records changes both court processes and studying courts. Authors included in the Handbook discuss theoretical, empirical and methodological approaches to studying courts as governing institutions. They also identify promising areas of future research.
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Chapter 10: Accountability, authority and documentary fragility: ‘shadow files’ in a trial in India

Mayur Suresh


The Indian judicial system is premised on the idea that it is documents, not people, who can maintain and produce juridical truth. For a ‘fact’ to exist, it must first be documented in paper and this paper must also bear the marks of certification procedures. These elaborate procedures are premised on the idea of accountability and, with specific regard to the judicial system, on the idea that the police ought to be accountable to the lower judiciary, and the lower judiciary to the higher judiciary. In turn, the reliance on paper is thought to ensure the accuracy and authority of judicial truth. However, as scholars and users of documents know, the rhetoric of stability based on paper is constantly betrayed by its material fragility. Far from undermining the authority of the state, I argue that the authority of the state is premised not upon the stability of documentary records, but on their fragility. This article follows the itinerary of a particular file that the government produces to manage its own accountability: the shadow file. The ‘shadow file’ is a file that is reproduced when the original file has been ‘lost’ and is a selection of the copies of some of the documents that made up the original file. In conflict zones such as Kashmir, the government often ‘loses’ files pertaining to human rights abuses-for if there is no file, the juridical truth recorded therein is also lost. In this article, I follow one particular shadow file pertaining to the husband of Masood Parveen, whose husband was murdered by Indian security forces. I show how the Indian government used the shadow file to construct an alternative history for the events leading up to Parveen’s husband’s death and to evade responsibility for the killing. The ‘loss’ of the file allows the authority of the state to grow to murderous proportions.

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