Judging the Holy Cow: Examining the Role of Implicit Bias in Judicial Rulings – An Analysis of the Decision in Mbena v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services 2015 4 All SA 361 (ECP)





Mbena, Chetty J, Explicit bias, implicit bias, valuable window, eliminate unjustified biases, offenders' constitutional rights, restrictive reading to ensure safeguarding, recommendations public policy formulation, judicial rulings, stigmatising shaming culture, harmful social biases, illuminating and eliminating, ex-offenders, plausible reading, ecommendations for improved public policy formulation


This contribution is an investigation into the role of implicit (as opposed to explicit) biases in judicial rulings by examining the judgment of Chetty J in Mbena v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services 2015 4 All SA 361 (ECP). Implicit bias refers to prejudice on a visceral level, namely unconscious bias, of which the bearer, to wit the judicial officer, is unaware. I suggest that exploring implicit bias in judicial rulings in the context of South Africa's harsh stigmatising shaming culture driven by incarceration as its dominant sentencing regime, will introduce a valuable window in identifying, as well as possibly illuminating and eliminating, unjustified and harmful biases. In this contribution I specifically focus on the generalised bias against ex-offenders in South Africa's harsh stigmatising shaming culture (which I distinguish from integrative shaming cultures found in Japan, China and many African societies) which attitude perpetuates the marginalisation, stigmatisation and discrimination of offenders which exceed their court-sanctioned punishment. I attempt to outline the reasons as to why the isolation and elimination of social biases of this nature are important since, in the view of many criminologists but particularly John Braithwaite, stigma is counter-productive and criminogenic as it leads to enhanced recidivism rates. To this end, I analyse the salient features of the case within a broad social context (including a consideration of phenomena such as the prison-industrial complex on South African soil) which exceeds a narrow legal framework. My roadmap for the paper encompasses a consideration of the salient, albeit disputed, facts of the case with a view towards an alternative, if plausible reading based on the probabilities of the two sets of conflicting facts presented by the opposing parties. I highlight the significance of the judgment before recommendations for improved public policy formulation are proffered.


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Author Biography

Casper Lӧtter , North-West University

Post-doctoral research fellow in the School of Philosophy North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa




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How to Cite

Lӧtter C. (2022). Judging the Holy Cow: Examining the Role of Implicit Bias in Judicial Rulings – An Analysis of the Decision in Mbena v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services 2015 4 All SA 361 (ECP). Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 25, (Published 28 July 2022) pp 1 – 29. https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2022/v25i0a12743



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