Defining human dignity: welfare judges, law and fairness in Belgian courts
Sophie Andreetta (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
This presentation will discuss the place of emotions in the work of welfare magistrates in Belgium. It will address the discourses, professional ethos and practices of those who decide whether to grant or withdraw social assistance based on the notion of "human dignity".
Paper long abstract:
In Belgium, after being denied or removed from welfare, people can challenge the administration's decision in labour courts. In a lot of those cases, judges have to establish whether being denied social assistance infringes on the litigants' right to "human dignity". Based on observation in court and on interviews with legal professionals, this presentation will reflect on the place of emotions in hearings and in the work of welfare magistrates, many of whom insist on their will to "solve the litigants' situation". It will address the discourses, professional ethos and practices of welfare judges: how do they define their role and eventually make decisions in cases where legal concepts allow for significant discretion? With the example of migrants with a precarious legal status, I will discuss judge's relationship to law and fairness, the way they deal with often conflicting jurisprudence and assess consistency in the litigants' stories. The case of (illegal) migrants in welfare courts will also help reflect on the impact of immigration policies on civil law cases and therefore, on the work of legal professionals.
The anthropology of emotions and law [LAW NET]