'Ritual individualisation': creative genius at sentencing, mitigation and conviction

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Judges and lawyers must regard themselves as upholding cherished values, including: the presumption of innocence; free defendant choice and participation; and attention to the unique individual. Yet, everyday criminal work also demands compliance with a system of perfunctory, mass case-disposal. How is this potential contradiction addressed? Conceiving the criminal-penal process as a tripartite rite of passage, the article originates the concept of ‘Ritual Individualisation’ (RI). RI’s creative pre-sentencing case-work accomplishes four key transformations in how the person is re-presented to the court for sentencing. Firstly, the person’s unique voice and personal story is revealed, exhibiting her as a freely participating individual. Secondly in doing so, the pertinence of social disadvantage tends to be minimised. Thirdly, ambiguous admissions of guilt are translated as freely-given, full and sincere confessions. Fourthly, the person is manifested as a culpable offender ready for punishment. The article considers new research agendas opened up by the implications of Ritual Individualisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-140
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Law and Society
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2019


  • sentencing
  • individualisation
  • mitigation
  • conviction
  • guilty pleas
  • courts
  • criminal process
  • criminal justice
  • efficiency
  • professions
  • court communities
  • ritual
  • pre-sentence investigation
  • pre-sentence reports


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