Edited by Susan M. Sterett and Lee D. Walker
Chapter 21: Letting the outside in? Court clerks, discretion and the shifting boundary between community and court: domestic violence cases in South Africa
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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