The magistrates in Portugal in front of their mediatisation and feminisation

What was the problem?

The recent decades have been marked by the growing mediatisation of courts. In the midst of that mediatisation, one of the focuses had been the growing visibility of the judges and magistrates of the Public Prosecution Service in the public space, as well as the transformation of the legal professions by effort of several judicial reforms. Nonetheless, who are our magistrates? has remained for many years as an answerless question. Thus, it mattered characterising and publicising these professionals' “social representations”, contextualising them in their professional dynamics, personal and professional motivations or the values which contextualise the “interpretation of certain law”. Simultaneously with this need, Portugal has seen profound transformations of the legal professions, including its feminisation. Currently, the women's weight in magistracy is significant, a fact which also didn't go unnoticed to the view of the media and some sectors of the judiciary. Despite this growing women's representativity, the studies on the feminisation of work revealed unsatisfactory, often laying upon speculations and stereotyped ideas.

It was before this scenery that CES had developed, between 2010 and 2013, two projects, financed by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology Foundation, whose contributions were essential to the comprehension of a sociological understanding of the legal professions, as well as of the way these have evoluted since the 1970s in front of an emerging context of media attention, feminisation and theoretical and ethical challenges made as much to the law as to the justice.

What did we do?

The studies undertaken in CES have developed in narrow partnership with the Association of the Portuguese Judges and the Union of the Public Prosecutors Union, while also having the approval and collaboration of the Superior Councils. In both, it was sought – through the analysis of the professional paths and experiences of the magistrates in Portugal, as well as of the representations of the society on them – outlining their sociographic profiles and the representations and attitudes about daily social questions which are growingly taken to the courts. In parallel, it was sought to understand, taking into account the feminisation of the judicial work, if this phenomenon promoted a feminine model in justice administration and management and in the act of investigating, accusing and judging.

The projects were based on both quantitative and qualitative analysis and included diverse sociological and sociohistorical techniques. To better understand the citizens' perceptions regarding the magistrates, analysis of press news and reports were also performed, and a survey to the population undertaken. In short, these projects allowed characterising, for the first time in Portugal and in a multidimensional way, the judiciary professional profiles, as well as the growing feminisation of justice and its reforms, contributing to understanding how these add to building a judiciary culture.

What happened?

The results of the studies “Who are our magistrates? Professional characterisation of the judges and magistrates of the Public Prosecution Service in Portugal” and “Women in magistratures in Portugal: paths, experiences and representations” were, respectively, presented in 2013 at the Lisbon's Urban Information Centre and at the Assembly of the Republic. Present in the release and discussion of the results were the then Justice Minister, Paula Teixeira da Cruz, Attorney General of the Republic, Joana Marques Vidal and António Joaquim Piçarra, then vice-president of the Superior Council of Magistracy. Also present were diverse national and international academics and justice professionals, as well as representatives of the parliamentary groups and professional associations and unions.

These studies, which enabled understanding the changes in these professionals' profiles across the recent decades, have also determined the need of a new citizenship culture of the magistrates as a way of tackling the formal gap between the Public Prosecution Service and the citizens; whose perception of justice revealed in the 64% of the enquired who did a negative evaluation of justice, and in the 60% which considered that the courts are slow; which contributes to the promotion of the social discredit in the Portuguese justice system. However, and regarding the performance of female magistrates, the public perception is that there are no gender differences when it comes to deciding the judicial process.

This discredit is accompanied by the magistrates' perception of their loss of professional prestige, where a third also highlighted a significant loss of independence in the exercise of the profession, working conditions and wage. The studies also highlighted the courts' need to adapt to the growing mediatisation of some processes in order to ensure the predominance of the rule of law.

Joana Marques Vidal highlighted that the study “Who are our Magistrates” undid the myth that the Public Prosecution Service is much more left-wing than the judiciary”, demonstrating being generally surprised by the study's results.

Up to this day, through the researchers involved in these two projects, CES participates in diverse projects, debates and reflections about the justice in Portugal, contributing to a growing understanding of the profession and of the exercise of justice; as revealed by innumerous interventions, opinion articles and participations in working committees and consultancies.

Related Projects

Who are they? Insights into professional characterisation of judges and public prosecutors in Portugal

April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2013

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

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Women as judges and Public Prosecutors in Portugal: paths, experiences and representations

Conceição Gomes

March 1, 2011 to August 31, 2013

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Read more