Publication Details

Richard Mohr and Nadirsyah Hosen, Everyday Jurisprudence in Urban Australia: Negotiating the space of legal performances, in Sarah Marusek and John Brigham (eds), Street-Level Sovereignty: The intersection of space and law. Lanham, MD and London: Lexington Books, 2017. Chapter 3, pp 67-89.


The theme of "street level sovereignty" invites us to contrast the informality of law on the street with the formal authority of the sovereign power. Legal pluralists argue that that law can be informal and based in social formations other than the state. Practitioners of the law, including judges, lawyers and legislators, work with the assumption that state law has a unique status as an authoritative, knowable and monolithic structure. Even for formal law, this has not always been the case: canon law, international law, customary law and other legal regimes are still recognised in various jurisdictions. The laws people live by are more diverse still. Some of these are formal and written, even if they are tangential to state law, such as religious laws or industry codes and standards. Others are known, perhaps even viscerally or unconsciously, by the communities who adhere to them, as in taken-for-granted business practices or generally accepted codes of behaviour towards others: queuing, keeping to the left or right on stairs and escalators. We distinguish here between formal law, which is written and known by experts even though it may not be recognised by state law, and informal laws, recognised in practice, but unrecorded in any formal way. The intersection of various legal regimes, sometimes called "internormativity",2 raises a number of questions that will be addressed in this chapter. Central to these is the relation between informal law and state law: how the two coexist, compete or constitute each other.3 We explore the following questions through a study of the interaction of formal and informal laws in action on a Sydney street.