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Immersive theatre meets Goldsmiths Law: The Justice Syndicate

Goldsmiths Law students, Fabian Higgins (left) and Olivia Burns (rights) playing the role of jurors in fanSHEN's immersive 'jury trial' theatre.

Goldsmiths Law Year 1 students, Fabian Higgins (left) and Olivia Burns (right), playing the role of jurors in fanSHEN’s immersive ‘jury trial’ theatre (at the Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall)

Goldsmiths Law students were given a unique opportunity to take part in an immersive jury trial theatre.

The Law department, in collaboration with the MA/MFA in Computational Arts, were delighted to bring to Goldsmiths the pioneering Justice Syndicate production.

The Justice Syndicate is a piece of playable theatre drawing on a jury format. It explores how we fill in the gaps to make decisions.

The experience is a collaboration between recovering theatre company fanSHEN, computational artist Joe McAlister and neuroscientist Dr Kris De Meyer. The Law department would like to express its thanks to fanSHEN’s Rachel Briscoe and Dan Briscoe for the outstanding collaboration.

The experience was delivered in the context of the ‘English Legal System in a Global Context’ LLB Law module.

The Justice Syndicate play was recently reviewed by the Irish Times: “As details and testimony are rationed out through iPads, and group discussions take place against a countdown, the only thing beyond reasonable doubt in UK company Fanshen’s absorbing piece of interactive theatre are the quirks of human psychology.”

A review has also appeared in the Evening Standard, which noted: “Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch showed viewers that, given enough power and detachment, they could calmly make decisions that destroy someone’s life. But what about when the situation and its consequences seem real?”

Immersive jury trial theatreIn the three separate sessions that took place at Goldsmiths on October 9th, we had the following verdicts:

In the first ‘trial’, the jury delivered a majority verdict of Not guilty (11 jurors voted Not guilty – no juror voted Guilty). In the second ‘trial’, the ‘same defendant’, tried for the ‘same offence’, in the exact ‘same circumstances’, was found Guilty (1 juror voted Not guilty – 11 voted Guilty). In the third ‘trial’, the jury failed to reach a majority verdict (2 jurors voted Not Guilty  – 9 voted Guilty).
It is intriguing that groups so demographically similar reached such differing verdicts having seen the exact same evidence!
The activity became an immediate favourite for Goldsmiths Law students. Fabian Higgins said that “the dichotomy of a serious accusation in the face of evidence (or lack thereof) balanced with ideas of justice, empathy and compassion became manifest; the activity drew into question the ‘fairness’ of our justice system and the human desire to ‘do the right thing’. A really fantastic opportunity.” Larah Otoo focussed on how the setting allowed the students to immerse into the experience: “From the moment I entered the room there was a court-like atmosphere with a formal set up of a table in the centre with juror numbers displayed and notebooks which added to the immersive experience. All the evidence – character statements, knowledge from experts in the particular field of crime, information regarding whereabouts of the defendant’s phone, internet search history and online messaging conversations that the defendant had – was presented to us was via iPads. Shahaf Farooq said she was “totally immersed in the trial”. “It was an exceptionally eye-opening and amusing piece of the world of courtroom and Law that highlights the effect of taking a different approach to teaching Law.” Finally, Dominica Henriques noted she had been “impressed by the set up of the experience, how the location along with the combination of technology managed to create such an immersive environment. It felt quite real.” She added: “I’ve hugely benefited from the experience because it is unique, it is thought provoking and it is a practical way of learning.”
On January 29th, Goldsmiths Law and the MA/MFA in Computational Arts will host another three sessions of the Justice Syndicate, and our students are already looking forward to acting out again the crucial role of members of the jury.