HomeTime and Justice, Timing Justice (early modern and contemporary periods, Europe and Americas)

HomeTime and Justice, Timing Justice (early modern and contemporary periods, Europe and Americas)

Time and Justice, Timing Justice (early modern and contemporary periods, Europe and Americas)

Le temps de la justice aux époques moderne et contemporaine (Europe, Amériques)

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Published on Wednesday, December 21, 2022


Recent sociological research on justice emphasises the extent to which time has become a central issue in the functioning and legitimacy of the judicial institution. However, the temporality of justice as a social activity has been little studied in itself by historians. The conference aims to put the contemporary acceleration of justice into perspective by observing the relationship of justice to time over several centuries. The aim is to understand how justice constructs its temporalities and articulates them with other social temporalities in the modern and contemporary eras, in different spaces, contexts and legal cultures.



Recent sociological research on justice emphasises the extent to which time has become a central issue in the functioning and legitimacy of the judicial institution [Bastard et al, 2016; Provost, 2022; Reveillere et al, 2022; Viennot, 2007]. This development is said to be the result of an acceleration specific to contemporary societies [Giddens, 1990] that the judiciary would try to catch up with, and therefore of a need to shorten the distance between judicial time and social time. The difficult articulation of the two is therefore a central issue in the current crisis of the institution. In a Temps du débat programme devoted to the mobilisation of French magistrates on 8 December 2021 on France Culture, the sociologist Cécile Vigour remarked: “The greatest frustration [for litigants] is the contrast between the time they wait before the hearing and the briefness of the time they spend with the judge.” In contrast with the feeling of slowness perceived by litigants, it is, on the contrary, the permanent urgency that is felt by those involved in the justice system, due to a lack of resources and judicial staff [Vigour et al., 2022]. While this acceleration is the result of the increasing demands from litigants, it may also be the corollary of a disengagement of the State and the application of New Public Management theories to justice [Bastard, Mouhanna, 2007].

The temporality of justice as a social activity has been little studied in itself by historians. Indeed, judicial archives have been used more to grasp the rhythms of past societies and the temporalities of social practices [Voth, 2000], rarely to understand the relationship of justice to time. The renewed interest in procedures, the more detailed knowledge of the actors (in particular court officers [Dolan, 2005]) and the different types and levels of justice (seigniorial, commercial, civil) have, however, made it possible to address the issue and to challenge certain clichés, such as the proverbial slowness of Ancien Régime justice [Piant, 2006]. 

The conference aims to put the contemporary acceleration of justice into perspective by observing the relationship of justice to time over several centuries. With the affirmation of state justice in the modern era, the shortening of court proceedings and judgments has become a leitmotif of judicial reforms. If the institution imposes its temporality in the settlement of conflicts, it is also permeable to external pressures and it has to be attentive to the needs of litigants. Judicial time is thus at the heart of the dialogue between institutions, society and the State.

The aim is to understand how justice constructs its temporalities in different times and contexts. Beyond the symbols and rituals that give majesty and authority to judgements [Garapon, 1997], the practical dimension of judicial time can be observed in all the operations carried out daily in the courts: opening, investigating, adjourning, reassigning and closing cases [Michel, Willemez, 2008]. The temporality of these actions is regulated by law and proceedings, which impose an order, deadlines and variable durations depending on the type of case or the status of the parties [Cerutti, 2020]. These time limits form a working framework for the institution but also constitute legal guarantees given to litigants regarding the respect of their rights. Far from being fixed, procedural rules are put into practice and used by the actors (judges, auxiliaries, litigants), who do not have the same interests and the same type of leeway. For the courts, time management is essential because they have to respond to requests, which are often numerous, while taking into account their organisational constraints and their often limited resources. Thus, professionalisation or the delegation of certain acts to external actors (arbitrators, experts) are all ways of dealing with massive litigation within the time limits set by law [Bastard, Mouhanna, 2007; Lemercier, 2012]. This construction of judicial temporalities is finally linked to the spatial dimensions of the exercise of justice (territory, extent of jurisdiction, professional environment).

Judicial time also makes sense when it is related to social time. How does justice manage to fit in within these constraints? The personal, lived experience of the temporality of justice must be reintegrated in evolving cultural contexts. The organisation of judicial time, as well as its perception, are not the same according to the social, spatial and temporal contexts, and the same goes for colonial situations. Differences in legal culture also lead to different relationships to time, such as the need to be judged within a reasonable time, a fundamental principle in common law countries. Gathering areas with common legal cultures on both sides of the Atlantic allows us to put the colonial phenomenon into perspective and to compare common law and civil law countries.

The conference aims to lay the groundwork for a long history of judicial time. Papers may be submitted in one or more of the following areas (none of which are exclusive). Particular attention will be given to proposals that place the actors, the practices and their place in time and space at the heart of their reflection.

1. Justice and its temporalities, discourses and measurements

The first axis aims to cross-reference the different ways in which society has sought to evaluate and measure judicial time. What are the effects of these discourses on social representations, political reforms and institutional practices? How does the judicial institution measure the temporality of its own action? What are the objectives of judicial statistics? Is this production indicative of the consecration of time as a standard of good justice? 

Such questioning also invites researchers to compare these measures with their own analyses. Surveys on the length of trials [Dickinson, 1982; Priest, 1999] are still few in number compared to the data collected on the volume of judicial activity. Reflecting on the time taken by the justice system requires, as a counterpoint, the construction of empirical data from judicial archives, but also a methodological reflection on the way in which these temporalities are apprehended. How can we count or measure the time taken by proceedings? What tools should be used to understand the multiplicity of temporalities (those of litigants, of the legal procedure, of the institution)? We propose a general reflection combining statistical and discursive analyses on the measurement of judicial time. 

2. Diversity of judicial times and uses of proceedings

Understanding judicial time means getting to the heart of the judicial proceeding mechanisms. Although the civil or criminal jurisdiction, the nature of the disputes and the type of actors involved determine the form of the legal procedure and, as a result, the time limits associated with it, litigants, legal professionals and court officers nevertheless have room to manoeuvre in order to adjust time according to their interests. This axis aims to pay particular attention to the role played by time in the practices adopted by the various actors. With regard to the judicial institution, such an approach makes it possible to reflect on the way in which time is adapted according to the specificities of the litigants (rank, class, gender, race). With regard to the litigants, it is a question of looking at the strategies implemented according to a double dimension: either within a given proceeding - by lengthening or shortening timeframes - or by taking advantage of the judicial organisation by seeking to adapt their demand for justice in order to be able to benefit from one proceeding (faster or slower) to the detriment of another.

This cross-sectional reflection on time, procedural mechanisms and judicial practices leads to questions about other dimensions of justice closely linked to time limits, including orality and writing, or the cost of justice. It allows us to examine the limits of strategies and the weight of judicial time in the reluctance to use justice, preferring non-judicial approaches.

3. Decision, sanction, enforcement of judgements

At the end of trials, cases are decided: a certain amount of time separates the debates from the announcement of the verdicts. This period of time varies according to the era and the type of jurisdiction, whether civil, criminal or military. While deliberations in civil cases nowadays often last several months, the criminal response is supposed to be rapid, in order to maintain the exemplary nature of the sentence. This axis invites us to measure how the speed or slowness of the decision is correlated with its quality and effectiveness. 

The decision often includes time provisions, whether in commercial, family or criminal matters. Particularly in contemporary times, the issue of sentence length has emerged as the main instrument for responding to offences, both in penal codes and actual verdicts. The extent to which time is central to the penal experience should be explored.  The enforcement of legal decisions sometimes undergoes adjustments and modifications, made possible by the greater or lesser flexibility offered by the texts and mechanisms. It is also dependent on the imperatives of other institutions, such as the management of the prison population.

4. Reforms and crises: judicial time, between ordinary and extraordinary

The last axis aims to question the political dimension of judicial temporalities. Reducing the length of proceedings is a common justification for the reforms undertaken by States. To what extent does the codification of law and the unification of proceedings reduce the slowness of the judicial system? Similarly, in addition to affecting the proximity between the institution and the litigants [Houllemare, Roussel, 2015], how does the modulation of the judicial network make it possible to regulate the time taken for proceedings and appeals? The link between space and time appears crucial here, as court congestion can lead to long delays in the processing of cases.

Finally, we can examine judicial temporalities through the prism of crises, whether or not they are specific to the judicial institution. How does the justice system adapt its functioning to emergencies or extraordinary situations? In turn, can the inability of justice to adapt to ordinary social temporalities be seen as the symptom of a justice crisis? Or, on the contrary, is the discordance of social and judicial time an inherent contradiction in the exercise of justice? 

Submission of paper proposals

Paper proposals (500 words max, in French or in English),  along with a short biography specifying institutional affiliation, should be sent to the following address: temps.justice.2023@gmail.com

by 28 February 2023.

A reply will be sent at the beginning of May 2023. Papers will not be required to be sent in advance.

Scientific committee

  • Pascal Bastien, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Simona Cerutti, EHESS, Centre de Recherche Historique
  • Frédéric Chauvaud, Université de Poitiers, Criham EA 4270
  • Neil Davie, Université Lumière Lyon 2, LARHRA UMR 5190
  • Anne-Emmanuelle Demartini, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Centre d’histoire du XIXe siècle UR 3550
  • Mirian Galante, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • Laurence Guignard, Université de Lorraine, CRULH EA 3945
  • Marie Houllemare, Université de Genève
  • Arnaud-Dominique Houte, Sorbonne Université, Centre d’histoire du XIXe siècle UR 3550
  • Claire Lemercier, CNRS, CSO UMR 7116
  • Xavier Rousseaux, Université catholique de Louvain
  • Evelyne Sanchez, CNRS, Institut d’histoire du temps présent UMR 8244
  • Emmanuel Taïeb, IEP de Lyon, Triangle UMR 5206
  • Rachel Vanneuville, CNRS, Triangle UMR 5206


  • Lyon, France (69)


  • Tuesday, February 28, 2023


  • temporalité, justice, procédure, temps judiciaire


  • Benoît Saint-Cast
    courriel : stcast [dot] benoit [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Benoît Saint-Cast
    courriel : stcast [dot] benoit [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Time and Justice, Timing Justice (early modern and contemporary periods, Europe and Americas) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, December 21, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/1a8t

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