The fanon on what effect dementors have on people in Azkaban may be affecting my judgment, but I'm pretty sure that it's well-established in the series that they eat happy memories and that Azkaban is generally just not a very nice place to be. With this in mind, why are people sent to Azkaban before trial?

You will now be escorted back to the Ministry, where you will be formally charged and then sent to Azkaban to await trial
Order of the Phoenix, chapter 27.

Doing awful things to people who haven't yet been convicted is bad enough, but to steal a point from Harry Potter and the Save-or-Die this could also destroy evidence, such as your memories of being entirely innocent. So why do they do it?

  • P. S. Do we really have no tag for "justice systems" or "courts"?
    – J. Mini
    Oct 8, 2020 at 20:27
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    I did vote to close for that exact reason. As evidence, I'll point out that the two current answers are basically opinions, which is exactly why that close reason exists. elemtilas's can be summed up as "In my opinion, the justice system of the wizarding world is barbaric". Just another's can be summed as "in my opinion, they have to because otherwise everyone would just flee justice". There's no references or evidence in either answer. Just opinions.
    – Alarion
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:43
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    @Alarion They are not opinion based. They reflect how justice works in HP world. Is it opinion based to say "Country X doesn't have presumption of innocence"? MoM doesn't have it, apparently and the answers suggest it.
    – user65648
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:47
  • 2
    Is there any evidence that all prisoners sent to Azkaban receive the same fate, and theres not simply a “holding wing” for prisoners awaiting trial who are merely imprisoned rather than suffer the full fate of convicted prisoners? In our world, most prisoners in long term holding custody are sent to the same prisons as convicts, but they have different status.
    – Moo
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:52
  • 2
    Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. :)
    – Alarion
    Oct 9, 2020 at 1:01

4 Answers 4


The Ministry of Magic is essentially a thugocracy where all the thugs wear nice robes and fancy suits. Ministry personnel have rather broad powers to snatch and to search and to imprison and even to politically assassinate with not only a carte blanche but with a blind eye turned. They also mistreat Muggles with reckless abandon -- "fixing" their memories and "wiping" their memories, always without any knowledge and always without any kind of consent of the altered person -- all of which constitute extreme examples of torture & manipulation. The Wizarding World has no concept of the dignity of the human person, especially when it comes to Muggles. But their concept of humanity is little better when it comes to magical peoples of various sorts.

Some of this may stem from how police powers and the justice system work in the UK, of which I plead ignorance. While, ostensibly, the MoM is some kind of hidden branch of Her Majesty's Government -- we know a new Minister of Magic pays at least one courtesy call on the PM at his taking on the office (and presumably the PM can, via the Portrait in his office in No. 10, communicate with the MM) -- it is a branch with little or no oversight and run by corrupt officials with little to no concept of due process and, frankly, an unsurprisingly medieval understanding of justice. (For example, it apparently wasn't too awful long ago that punishments at Hogwarts involved torture, according to Mr Filtch's fond reminiscence.)

At the best of times, the MoM is an invasive and oppressive presence within the magical community in the way it arranges the lives of its citizens, from the Trace to all but forcing families to funnel their children through a narrow and officially watched progression of life, be it wand registration to the Trace to blood status registration, wand confiscation, examination, and even destruction.

The WW's justice system is really just a symptom of an extremely corrupt Ministry operating in a rather top heavy, self serving, and almost fascist bureaucracy. The very fact that dementors are present for hearings and trials is the functional equivalent of placing a Muggle defendant in a noose whilst on trial. Everything about the MoM's justice system is designed to frighten, demoralise, terrorise, and oppress everyone who sits on the wrong side the "law". Note also that there is no jury, no proper recourse to legal counsel, no actual trial procedure and no actual judges.

In conclusion, may it please the court! In the Wizarding World, people are sent to Azkaban before trial, simply because the system of jurisprudence in the Wizarding World is barbaric, antiquated, medieval (in the worst sense of the word) and completely out of step with a more modern and enlightened understanding of mercy in justice, human rights, civil rights, and the rights of the accused. They do it because they can, and no magical people seem to really care or be aware of the barbarity of their government; let along care enough to desire to change it.

As an aside, I don't think we can really blame the average witch or wizard on the street for this attitude. As a culture, British Wizarding society is terribly backward and parochial in general. Not just the blood status thing, but the absolutely blasé attitude even those on the side of the Light exhibit towards other human beings, be they Wizards or Muggles, and to say nothing of their absolutely uncaring and unconcerned attitudes towards Goblins, Elves, Centaurs, and any other magical peoples. Basically, wizarding society is about as phoqued up as North Korean society. It took a Muggle born (Hermione Granger) to even make her age group aware there is even an issue to be aware of!

  • 1
    I loved this answer. It kind of shows everything that is wrong with the Harry Potter. It is a medieval society built in present day. Similar issues in LotR is acceptable because it is medieval or in SW because it was in another galaxy with different values. I assume JKR was either uneducated about human rights or she deliberately ignored them and I am leaning to the latter.
    – user65648
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:37
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    @C.Koca -- Actually, I was considering whether JKR wrote the MoM as a dysfuctional & medieval dystopia out of ignorance or lack of education, or was this done on purpose. Frankly, I think anyone in the modern UK would have to literally be living under a rock or in a bog to be completely unaware of these kinds of issues. My hope is that she simply did a brilliant job of worldbuilding a 21st century society that has essentially segregated itself from the rest of British culture since the mid-late 1600s.
    – elemtilas
    Oct 9, 2020 at 1:15
  • I have not read The Casual Vacancy, but given its deeply sociopolitical subject matter, I find it hard to believe that JKR is/was ignorant of these matters.
    – Kevin
    Oct 9, 2020 at 7:26
  • @C.Koca It has been argued that OotP was heavily influenced by the war on terror. Make of that what you will.
    – J. Mini
    Oct 9, 2020 at 11:46
  • "It took a Muggle born (Hermione Granger) to even make her age group aware there is even an issue to be aware of!" ... it seems even Hermione is not above taking memories without consent as she was trying to protect her parents.
    – Matt
    Oct 9, 2020 at 17:14

People do go into custody in the real world before trial too

Although the approved answer presents a very nice view on how the Wizarding Society has pretty much stayed in 1600s, while the rest of the world has progressed on every aspect of human rights, we are overlooking the fact that in our society people are going to prison (albeit this is called "custody" and not "imprisonment") for severe crimes, before being tried.

Dumbledore's crime, even unfair, can be considered severe

We can't expect an accused murderer running loose until his trial takes place. In the passage you've mentioned, Dumbledore is accused of conspiracy and betrayal against the Ministry of Magic. Even though we know this is not the case, he confesses, in front of the Minister and two Aurors, that he indeed has assembled a secret league (which is even called "army") to teach Defense Against Dark Arts, violating a set of regulations and decrees. This should be considered severe, providing that the Ministry thought that Dumbledore was using this league, to take over the office for himself.

Azkaban might not offer the same level of "punishment" to all its prisoners

Now, someone might argue: "OK about the accusation and the severity, but custody in a cell is not the same as imprisonment in Azkaban". To that, I am going to ask: are we sure that Azkaban offers the same level of strictness across all of its prisoners? It is never established (nor stated by the author), that there aren't levels of severity in the prison. Who tells us that Dumbledore, who was accused for conspiracy but not yet convicted, will be thrown into the same type of cell that Sirius or the Death Eaters were?

The Dementors do not have an infinite range of powers

Even though that the above might be true, there is one more point: Azkaban, a place with hundreds of Dementors, will sure have a bad impact on prisoners, regardless of the fact of their imprisonment's/custody's severity.

This is, however, not the case. Dementors were guarding Hogwarts School for the entirety of Harry's third year. Even though there were bad spikes when Dementors were stepping into the grounds, the school year has passed pretty much the same way as the other years. No students were being tortured by bad feelings, blackouts etc..

That certainly means that the area the Dementors can affect, is bound to limits. Just because someone is in the same building with a Dementor, doesn't mean he will suffer the same with the one that is standing next to him.


People are routinely locked up before trials, if they can not post bail, or the judge holds that there is sufficient evidence that the prisoner will be dangerous if let loose. The purpose is to ensure they don't escape trial.

Why Azkaban? Again, to prevent escape. Wizards have ways to escape that Muggles never even dreamed of. Precautions must be taken against these ways.

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    Azkaban isn't a holding cell. It is a notoriously cruel establishment. I guess its real world equivalent is not any jail, it is Guantanamo.
    – user65648
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:52
  • @C.Koca right but where is it established that the severity of the protection of Azkaban is exactly the same for all prisoners? How can we rule out different levels of protection and punishment? After all, Azkaban is not a small place but a massive prison. Oct 16, 2020 at 7:19

Azkaban is a serious punishment for a serious crime. Imagine if the Ministry just sent Bellatrix Lestrange a letter that said "Hey we think you tortured some people into insanity. Please come to a trial on this date. Have a nice day!" What do you think she'd do? Just show up to the trial like the responsible, upstanding citizen that she is? Of course not! She'd sit at home laughing her head off at the sheer stupidity of such a notion, and blast any Ministry employees that come to get her into smithereens!

The sort of wizard/witch who commits a crime as serious as Azkaban needs to have their wand confiscated and be contained. Any semi-intelligent wizard that knows that they are going to Azkaban for their crime would flee the country immediately! They are dangerous criminals that need to be contained so that they don't flee, commit more crimes, or anything of the sort.

Yes, if the person is innocent, they would be scarred, but a bad experience versus a dangerous criminal on the loose is an easy choice.

  • 6
    This is a complete non-answer. Nothing that you've said justifies Azkaban. At best, you've only argued for confiscating the accused's wand and putting them in a locked room. Furthermore, your very first sentence contradicts the premise of the question. The whole point is that a crime has not yet been established to have been committed by the accused. Finally, your last section completely disregards the fact that spending time is Azkaban destroys evidence.
    – J. Mini
    Oct 8, 2020 at 20:50
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    @J.Mini It doesn't destroy evidence! The dementors feed on happy memories, but they do not destroy them! Sirius nearly got kissed, yet he can still happily reminisce about his days as at Hogwarts with Lupin and James. Harry nearly got kissed, but he can still conjure a powerful corporeal Patronus with his happy memories. Also, what does that matter? It's not like they ever bring out a pensive at trials anyway. If they did, the wizarding justice system would be a lot better. Oct 8, 2020 at 20:59
  • To be clear, you're asking me "if they do actually destroy happy memories before a trial happens, what is the problem"? I'd assume that being innocent is, or at least can be, a happy memory.
    – J. Mini
    Oct 8, 2020 at 21:07
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    And I quote, Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 19, The servant of Lord Voldemort: "I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the dementors couldn't suck it out of me... but it kept me sane and knowing who I am... helped me keep my powers..." - Sirius Black. Again, for emphasis, I quote: "I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the dementors couldn't suck it out of me..." Your honor, I rest my case. Oct 8, 2020 at 21:35
  • 3
    The question is more about the difference between arrested and convicted. Everyone without exception, even Lestrange, deserves a fair trial with the presumption of innocence, otherwise the next MoM might adhere to different standards. This is why people need unalienable rights. I am not a lawyer, but for a state to throw a charged person in a facility like Azkaban, there must surely be no other way (difference between unwilling and unable), so throwing Lestrange might be due to inability of regular jails to hold someone as dangerous as her, but even then, it should only be used sparingly.
    – user65648
    Oct 9, 2020 at 0:33

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