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Public confidence in the CJS: ending on a high?
2022 has been a turbulent and challenging year for many. Social inequalities and disadvantage are rife, with those in power repeatedly making bad, inhumane decisions and with very little, to no, accountability or consequences (insert your favourite example from the sh** storm that is the Conservative Party here). Union after Union, across sectors, engage in industrial action in response to poor working conditions and pay, amidst a cost-of-living crisis. And although seemingly unconnected, as the year comes to a close, the Sentencing Guidelines (2022) report on Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) has got me feeling frustrated. My previous blog entries have often been ‘moans’. And whilst January is often dubbed the month of new beginnings and change for the year ahead: we’re not quite there yet so true to form here is my latest moan!
The report exists as one of many conducted by Savanta to collate data on public confidence, in terms of effectiveness and fairness, in the CJS and public awareness of the sentencing guidelines. The data collected in March 2022, was via online surveys given to a “nationally representative sample of 2,165 adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9). Some of their highlighted ‘Key Findings’ include that confidence levels in CJS remains relatively stable in comparison to 2018, on the whole, respondents viewed sentences as ‘too lenient’ however this varied based on offence, the existence of the sentencing guidelines improves respondent’s confidence in the fairness of sentencing, and that engagement with broadcast news sources was high across respondents (Archer et al., 2022). It is not the findings, per se, that I take umbrage with, but rather the claim it is a “nationally representative sample of adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9).
I take issue on two fronts. The first being that the sample size of 2,165 adult respondents is representative when the demographic factors included are: gender (male and female), age (18-34yo, 35-54yo and 55+), region, ethnicity (White, Mixed, Asian, Black and Other) and socio-economic grade. Now considering we are, thankfully, at the end of 2022 we should all be able to recognise that a sample which only includes cis-gendered options, narrows ethnicity down to 4 categories and the charming ‘other’, and does not include disabilities is problematic. There has been a large body of research done on people with disabilities and their experiences within the CJS, the lack of representation, the lack of accessibility to space and decisions, potentially impacting a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and a victim’s right to justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2021; Hyun et al., 2013 ). So I ask, is this not something which needs considering when looking at public confidence in the CJS of a “nationally representative” sample?
In addition to this, I take issue with the requirement that the sample be “nationally representative”. We have research piece upon research piece about how Black men and Black boys experience the CJS and its various agencies disproportionately to their white counterparts (Lammy, 2017; Monteith et al., 2022; Parmar, 2012). Their experiences of stop and search, sentencing, bail, access to programmes within the Secure and Youth estate. There is nothing representative about our CJS in terms of who it processes, how this is done, and by whom. According to Monteith et al., (2022) 1% of Judges in the CJS are Black, and there are NO Black judges on the High Court, Court of Appeal of Supreme Court: this is not representative! Why then, are we concerned with a representative sample when looking at public confidence in CJS and the sentencing guidelines, when it is not experienced in a proportionate manner?
Maybe I’ve missed the point?
The report is clear, accessible, visible to the public: crucial concepts when thinking about justice, and measuring public confidence in the CJS is fraught with difficulties (Bradford and Myhill, 2015; Kautt and Tankebe, 2011). But this just feels like another nail being thumped into the coffin that is 2022. Might be the eagerness I possess to leave 2022 behind, or the impeding dread for the year to follow but the report has angered me rather than reassured me. As a criminologist, I am hopeful for a more inclusive, representative, fair and accountable CJS, but I am not sure how this will be achieved if we do not accept that the system disproportionately impacts (but not exclusively) Black men, women and children. Think it might be time for another mince pie…
Happy New Year to you all!
Archer, N., Butler, M., Avukatu, G. and Williams, E. (2022) Public Knowledge of Confidence in the Criminal Justice System and Sentencing: 2022 Research. London: Sentencing Council.
Bradford, B. and Myhill, A. (2015) Triggers of change to public confidence in the police and criminal justice system: Findings from the crime survey for England and Wales panel experiment, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 15(1), pp.23-43.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (2021) Does the criminal justice system treat disabled people fairly? [Online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/inquiries-and-investigations/does-criminal-justice-system-treat-disabled-people-fairly [ Accessed 4th November 2021].
Hyun, E., Hahn, L. and McConnell, D. (2013) Experiences of people with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42: 308-314.
Kautt, P. and Tankebe, J. (2011) Confidence in the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales: A Test of Ethnic Effects, International Criminal Justice Review, 21(2),pp. 93-117.
The Lammy Review (2017) The Lammy Review: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals in the Criminal Justice System, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/goverment/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report-pdf [Last Accessed 14th February 2021].
Monteith, K., Quinn, E., Dennis, A., Joseph-Sailsbury, R., Kane, E., Addo, F. and McGourlay, C. (2022) Racial Bias and the Bench: A Response to the Judicial Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2020-2025), [online] Available at: https://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspax?DOCID=64125 [Accessed 4th November 2022].
Parmar, A. (2012) Racism and ethnicity in the criminal justice process, in: Hucklesby, A. and Wahidin, A. (eds.) Criminal Justice, 2nd ed, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.267-296.
Colston, the toppling of a pejorative narrative
The acquittal of the four defendants for their role in the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol has created an interesting debate and in some, more right-wing quarters, fury. In an interview following the verdict Boris Johnson stated we cannot seek to “retrospectively change our history“
But what history is he talking about, the one where this country was heavily involved in slavery or some other history around Empire and ‘jolly hockey sticks and all that sort of thing’?
History tells us that this country’s empire, like all empires significantly benefited from its conquests to the detriment of those conquered. Although if you watch the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, the right of the political spectrum might find some comfort in the sketch that starts with ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’? This country’s history is complex more so because it is a shared history with its own inhabits and those of other countries across most of the world. A history of slaves and slave traders. A history of rich and powerful and poor and powerless. A history of remapping of countries, redefining of borders, of the creation of unrest, uncertainty and chaos. A history of theft, asset stripping, taking advantage and disempowerment. As well as a history of standing up to would be oppressors. It is a complex history but not one that is somehow rewritten or removed by the toppling of a statue of a slave trader.
The tearing down of the statue is history. It is a fact that this country’s so called great and good of the time were tarnished by a despicable trade in human misery. The legacy of that lives on to this day. Great and good then, not so now, in fact they never were, were they? It may be questionable whether the circumstances of the removal of the statue were right, hence the charges of criminal damage. It might be questionable whether the verdict given by the jury was right, but surely this isn’t about changing history, it is about making it.
There are suggestions that the verdict may be referred to a higher authority, perhaps the Supreme Court. It appears right that there was a case to answer, and it seems right that the jury were allowed to deliver the verdict they did. There is nothing perverse in this, nothing to challenge, due process has taken place and the people have spoken. The removal of the statue was not criminal damage and therefore was lawful.
If a statue is an affront to the people of a locality, then they should be able to have it removed. If is such an affront to common decency, then the only people guilty of an offence are those that failed to remove it in the first place. Of course, it is more complex than that and perhaps the bigger question is why this didn’t happen sooner?
It would seem fitting to replace the statue with something else. Something perhaps that shows that slowly people of this country are waking up to the country’s past, well at least some of them. A statue that commemorates a new beginning, that acknowledges the country’s true past and points the way to a far more humane future for all. No Mr Johnson, we shouldn’t try to rewrite or obliterate history, we just need to change the way it written and stop ignoring the truth.
Constitutional Crisis? What Crisis
Dr Stephen O’Brien is the Dean for the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at the University of Northampton
Over the past few weeks our political lexicon has been further developed. We have all learned a new word. The word in question is prorogation. Hands up who had heard of this term before recent events in parliament? I see very few hands up. What we all now know is that this is the term that defines the discontinuation of a session of a parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it. It means parliament’s sitting is suspended and it ends all current legislation under discussion. It is usual for this to happen every autumn. The current prorogation is for five weeks and includes a three-week period that would typically be recess anyway, during which the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative party conferences are held, but is nevertheless longer than usual. However, there are several highly irregular factors at play here. For prorogation to last more than a month is unprecedented in recent times. For example, since the 1980s prorogation has typically lasted less than a week. So, what is going on and why is this prorogation proving to be so contentious?
The heart of the matter is the issue that has dominated UK politics for the past three years, namely Brexit. Despite a vote to leave the European Union (EU) back in June 2016 we currently remain part of the EU with the deal negotiated under the previous prime minister Theresa May culminating in a withdrawal agreement that was soundly rejected by parliament on several occasions. This has set up tensions between the people and parliament. How do we enact the will of the people and honour the referendum result within a parliamentary democracy where there is no majority for any Leave deal on the table?
The new prime minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet are resolved to break the political impasse by leaving come what may “do or die” by October 31st, 2019. So, with the country rapidly approaching the deadline for leaving the EU, Parliament has been working to pass a law that would prevent the UK crashing out without a deal, regardless of the fact that Boris Johnson has promised to leave on that date. With no deal currently agreed and no law allowing a no deal exit the Government would be obliged to ask the EU for another extension. There are suggestions from some quarters that the Government might ignore any law requiring them to agree an extension with the EU. Given this situation some politicians have been dismayed that parliament will not be sitting while the situation remains unresolved. Hence the view that this prorogation is stifling parliamentary debate on the most crucial political issue in a generation.
The act of prorogation took place in the early hours of Tuesday September 10th with a ceremony involving a message from the Queen being read in the House of Lords and then Black Rod summoning MPs from the Commons. A list of all the bills passed by the parliament was read, followed by a speech on behalf of the Queen announcing what has been achieved by the government before MPs were sent home. Johnson intends for parliament to return on 14 October with a Queen’s speech, which he says will “bring forward an ambitious new legislative programme for MPs’ approval”. He will then almost immediately have to head to Europe for the vital EU council, which is the last chance for him to obtain a new Brexit deal or to ask for an extension of article 50.
The situation has been deemed a constitutional crisis by some and the fact that parliament is not sitting at this critical time is being seen by some as undemocratic, indeed unlawful. Indeed, the act of prorogation has been subject to judicial review for the past couple of weeks. Scottish appeal court judges declared Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to the October Brexit deadline unlawful. The three judges, chaired by Lord Carloway, Scotland’s most senior judge, overturned an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the power to interfere in the prime minister’s political decision to prorogue parliament. The key issue in question being whether the act was in breach of the constitution, as it was designed to stifle parliamentary debate and action on Brexit.
Regardless of the legal arguments which ended up being played out in three dramatic days this week in the Supreme Court the Brexit process and endgame has pointed up a range of tensions at the intersections of our constitution. The old political landscape is being swept away and being replaced by a much more complex set of political indicators. Left versus Right which had been making a comeback after years of centrist neo-liberalism has been replaced by Leave versus Remain which pervades across the old battle lines. Furthermore, other tensions are apparent as set out below.
- People versus Parliament (How to deliver the referendum result in a parliamentary democracy)
- Executive (Government) versus Parliament (especially when the executive has no overall voting majority)
- The Executive versus the Judiciary
- The position of the Judiciary as related to Constitution
- Politics versus The Law
- The roles and power relationships of the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary as related to The Constitution.
What the overall Brexit process has created is a new socio-political landscape in the UK, with distinct differences in each of the four countries. It also illustrates how complex the nature of our constitution is given there is no written version and we depend on precedent and convention. The intersections are thrown into sharp relief by the current “crisis”.
Whilst all of this may be concerning as the old order shifts the really concerning question is whether the Executive will abide by the law. Given the outcomes of Parliament in terms of blocking “no deal” regardless of the Supreme Court Judgement on the legality of the prorogation. So, will we leave EU on October 31st? Utilising classic political phraseology, I’d say there is still all to play for, it’s too close to call and all bets are off.
Dr Stephen O’Brien