Our aim is to build a judging project which resonates with work within feminist legal studies and beyond. We hope that it will be accessible to a wide range of groups and individuals. By framing judgment as an inherently political activity and focusing on Northern/Irish contexts, the Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Project will take feminist judging in challenging new directions. Judges play different roles according to their political environment. Ireland and Northern Ireland are separate jurisdictions with difficult and overlapping legal and political histories. Over the past century, the stability and authority of both legal orders has been subject to daily contestation. Judges are crucial, if not always nakedly, political figures. Important judgments articulate ideal national futures characterised by certainty, stability and respect for established order (Devlin, 1993). Inasmuch as both societies have been dominated by ethno-national conflict and religious conservatism, judges (progressive or otherwise) have played identity politics; at times requiring litigants to perform ideal identities and at times reworking them (Hanafin, 1998). In unsettled times, Northern/Irish women became custodians of national identity; idealised mothers, daughters, wives, and victims (Fletcher, 2001). Judicial identity projects directly affected women’s lives, by defining women’s relationship to the state, setting the bounds of political action and sparking or smothering dissent, resistance, and reform (Mullally, 2006; Roulston, 1988; Connolly, 2002). These issues are ripe for critical interdisciplinary engagement, as judges in both jurisdictions grapple with supposedly new transitions into multiculturalism, secularism and post-national politics (Delanty, 1996; Clarke, 2000; Harrington, 2005).
Existing socio-legal studies of gender and the Northern/Irish judiciary have focused on processes of selection and appointment, and the significance of representation (Bacik et al, 2003; Ward, 2007; Feenan, 2008). Such studies draw on academic scholarship on gender and parity and representation, but do not engage in sustained exploration of judicial reasoning and techniques of judicial practice. Research and scholarship on the politics of the judiciary, and on judicial activism or restraint, in both jurisdictions, largely ignore fraught questions of gender and national belonging (Dickson, 2010; Gwynn-Morgan, 2011). This project therefore provides an engaging opportunity to consolidate and re-invigorate judicial studies in Northern/Ireland.
The photograph is of the London-based feminist direct action performance group ‘Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.’ The group has used occasions such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the State Visit to protest Ireland’s Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion.