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 21: Letting the outside in? Court clerks, discretion and the shifting boundary between community and court: domestic violence cases in South Africa

Kelley Moult


Court clerks in domestic violence courts in South Africa shape complex troubles into cases. As street level workers, they manage onerous caseloads, assess the worthiness of clients, and attend to the demands of supervisors and external communities. Yet they are often neglected as members of a court work group. The few studies on court clerks theorize their role from on a Global North perspective. This chapter assesses how court clerks in three different courts in a metropolitan area in South Africa interpret their work under the Domestic Violence Act. South Africa’s complex setting is central to understanding the clerks’ decisionmaking. The clerks routinely adapt policy to serve what they perceive to be the best interests of the complainant, and also their own pragmatic needs. Notions of ‘community’ are essential in understanding the clerks’ implementation of the Act, as communities both within and outside the court shape their adaptation. The clerks act therefore either as ‘gatekeepers’ for the court system or as ‘rights keepers’ on behalf of their clients, defining everyday events and relationships as either normal or problematic, and shaping the interpretation of rights and justice on the basis of these decisions.

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