It is an unfortunate consequence of the digital age that, as we consume more and more information each day, the depth of that information has fallen drastically. A shorter news story is more attractive than a longer one and simplicity is favoured over detail (look no further than the rising popularity of ‘clickbait’ headlines). Although complexity is often a vice, the realities of human life, especially in the realm of criminal justice, require more nuanced treatment than a 140-character tweet can offer. But instead these complicated issues of law and order are presented in a way that means the public can only take them at face value and without proper reflection. Low prison sentences are read about with habitual anger and routine dismissal. Criminals are stereotyped in the media as some inferior, inconvenient and altogether different breed of human, to be locked away out of public sight and thought.
Charalee Graydon’s THE JUDGEMENT GAME seeks to open up the debate by forcing readers to consider the emotional turmoil and very human difficulties that these criminals experience before they turn to crime. The book confronts the reader with a series of case studies revealing the history behind various crimes that have been committed in the fictional country of Torcia. At the end of each story, the reader is asked to reflect on the moral and political issues raised and to decide what should happen to the criminal in the story. The concept is innovative and inescapably thought-provoking: the reader becomes omnipotent, deciding how the criminal justice system should be run from the unique position of having the power of the jury, judge and legislators.
When modern concepts such as restorative justice and rehabilitation are becoming increasingly popular, possessing this fictional control over the justice system becomes almost addictive. From the very beginning, the reader has the chance to create their own sentences and to construct the justice system they wish to see in the world. In the best chapter in the book, Graydon allows the reader the chance to read private discussions between clients and lawyers, which usually are not admitted before courts. From that position of omniscience, the reader has to challenge their preconceptions of criminals and rethink their usual reactions to crime. It is a powerful exercise in free-thought to be able to decide these matters from first principles, freed from the assumptions that currently underpin Western justice.
Graydon skilfully portrays how that power has become almost perverse in politics, where the judging of others becomes a ‘game’. In our real life judgment ‘game’, the politician’s ‘points’ are determined by the proportion of people locked up in prison – that is what creates the best headline, and that is what secures votes. The work exposes how playing with people’s lives in this way denies justice and dignity to troubled human beings.
The case studies Graydon uses to consider these people are alluringly ordinary: their success lies in their ability to capture what we are so used to reading about in newspapers. However, at times the order of the case studies seems unhelpful: the book begins with a section on domestic violence, but mediation may not be the most accessible topic to introduce the book’s concept with. Although the breadth of issues covered should be commended, ranging from drug offences to treason, occasionally one craved more background to the stories. Perhaps a lengthier treatment of some of the topics would give the reader more of a chance to reflect on the issues.
However, despite these slight difficulties, the book creates a refreshing environment of free thought. In a world which moves so fast, having the space to think critically is welcoming. By forcing the reader to consider a fictional justice system, Graydon’s work pushes us to reassess our own justice systems and their rationales. It is a creative instruction in critical thinking that can be read by students and people interested in justice across the world: the issues it raises are those that have confronted every society for as long as we have had basic civilisation. Original and provocative, THE JUDGEMENT GAME is an assertive response to reactionary and dismissive politics.

Charles Bishop
Wadham College, University of Oxford

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