Unjust spaces: how the design of criminal courtrooms undermines fundamental principles of justice

Prof David Tait1

1Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia

Courtrooms are places where people charged with criminal offences are processed. They may also be places that themselves offend against important principles of justice.  The paper argues that courtroom design in many jurisdictions, including most of those in Australia, violate principles of fairness, dignity and equality. It shows how the use of the dock for accused persons undermines the presumption of innocence, using data from two randomised controlled trials carried out in Sydney courts.  More generally, the paper goes on to analyse the relative position in court of judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers, witnesses and the public.  It shows how many of the configurations violate principles such as equality of arms, adversarialism, public accountability and protection. The paper identifies models of court design that successfully embody fundamental justice principles.


David Tait is Professor of Justice Research at Western Sydney University. He is Co-ordinator (with Diane Jones) of the Court of the Future Network, a group of judges, court executives, architects, engineers and scholars with an interest in justice environments and how they might be transformed in the future.  He has led five ARC projects about courts, justice environments and technologies and is currently  an investigator on a study funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through the University of Montreal; the sub-project he leads investigates distributed and virtual courts, together with Professors Fred Lederer, Christian Licoppe and Meredith Rossner.

He has a special interest in justice processes, particularly how justice is performed and experienced in different cultural and national settings. This has led to research on juries, mental health and guardianship tribunals, restorative justice conferences, Koori (Indigenous) courts, court safety and remote witness communications.


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