Professor Katherine Biber is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, where her research explores the handling of criminal evidence outside the courtroom and after the conclusion of a trial. On 11th June she will take part in the Illicit Images workshop at the IALS, speaking on “Redacted readymades: art from bureaucratic secrets”.
She kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her work….
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work ….
I am a legal scholar, historian and criminologist at the University of Technology Sydney, in Australia. My research focuses on criminal evidence, particularly visual evidence. I study that way that photographs and other visual sources are used and interpreted within the legal process, and also how evidentiary materials continue to proliferate outside of, and after, the trial.
How does your work relate to information/communication law and policy?
Some of my research looks at principles and practices of open justice. It investigates the processes by which users might access evidentiary materials from courts. I have found that whilst some of this material is released following a judicial decision – where the principles of open justice might be considered explicitly – a great deal of this material is released in the shadow of the law. It might be released by court registrars, court information officers, court media officers, or by some other kind of processes, which are highly variable, and which are also very difficult to research.
What have you done while you have been at the IALS? What have been the most valuable activities?
I have been working on a book manuscript. I am writing a book [provisionally] titled In Crime’s Archive: The Cultural Afterlife of Evidence, due to be published by Routledge in 2016. I’ve been speaking to curators, scholars, artists, playwrights, poets, lawyers and judges about how criminal evidentiary material continues to ‘live’ after its probative value has expired. I’ve been attending exhibitions and events, as London is an incredibly rich and inspiring place to see creative and curatorial work.
Tell us about the Illicit Images event and what that’s about ….
Illicit Images is an opportunity for four scholars to have a dialogue about how legal images might be examined and understood. Each of us draws upon a different group of images from specific times and places, and each of us will set out some of the questions raised for legal and cultural scholarship by ‘difficult’ images. These are questions about the making of these images, their display, their manipulation and how their meanings might change with the passage of time. Three of the speakers are legal scholars, and one (Peter Doyle) is a curator, crime fiction author, musician and media scholar. It will be a lively event, and one that I hope is the beginning of a longer conversation.
What are your future plans for research?
I am starting to think about writing a legal biography of Jimmy Governor. Governor was an Aboriginal farm worker who, in 1900, murdered white women and children on the Australian frontier. His capture and trial, immediately before Australian Federation, marks his experience of the criminal process as very unusual and distinctive. I am interested in tracing the extent to which Federation provides a context for interpreting his crimes, his capture, his trial, his appeal, and his eventual execution.
For further details about Professor Biber’s work please see her profile at UTS. Sign up for the Illicit Images workshop, organised by the IALS in collaboration with Birkeck, University of London, here.