If Court is not a Place


  • Eva Löfgren University of Gothenburg




Since year 2000 the number of places of law courts is steadily dropping in most European countries. Demographic trends, new technical means of transport and communication of court users and an increased specialisation of judges are pointed out as the driving factors, which have created an entirely new judiciary map. The change can be described in terms of fewer but bigger units but may also be viewed as a fundamental questioning of geography as the organising principle, and thereby of the court as a place rooted in and defined by its local context. To fulfil the citizens’ right to a fair trial according to the European Convention on Human Rights, CEPEJ points out, the states must set up “a sufficient network of courts” (CEPEJ 2022, p.91). Stressing the relational while omitting locality and distance the institution not only frames a change in geographical distribution but a transformed perception of the law court. With geographer Helga Leitner, “networks span space rather than covering it”, which implies that the space in-between is of little importance (Leitner 2003). The court seems now to be defined by its part in the network. This paper addresses the change of the judiciary map and what it entails, by examining the notion of the court as linked to a place. Setting off from three cases of court closings, the paper analyses the debate that preceded and made way for the 21st century Swedish district court reorganisation. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of courts of first instance was halved, creating larger legal territories and larger courts. Building on previous studies on European legal reforms (Mak 2008; Anderson 2011; Branco 2019; Mulcahy and Rowden 2020), the aim is to identify recurrent concepts and discuss how they may have transformed our expectations of the location and character of justice administration. What was expressed or referred to in this debate as to scale, distance and matters of here, there and between? What concepts of place and geography were put to the fore by different actors to enhance or dismantle arguments? The paper is based on a qualitative study of on the one hand official investigations and parliamentary committee reports and on the other the debate that ended with the closing of three Swedish district courts.


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