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White and Male: the diversity of the judiciary

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My name is Anita and I graduated with a Criminology degree in 2016. I did have a great time at the University of Northampton. The course was challenging and intense however this meant that it provided me with the opportunity to overcome my barriers and develop myself both academically and personally. I miss going to lectures and seminars, revising for exams and even writing the dissertation. If you are reading this and you are in your third year, you are probably thinking that I am mad but I do miss it. I can’t help it! I can honestly say that going to University was the best decision I ever made and I would love to go back and do a postgraduate course. My advice to all students is enjoy it because time goes by so fast.

Before we start, please stop and think…… What percentage of court judges would you guess are women? How many members of the judiciary are from ethnic minorities?

If your guess is that we have a substancial amount of women and members from ethnic minorities in the judiciary, then this blog post might dissapoint you.

Let’s define the judiciary before we progress any further. The judiciary can be defined as ‘the judges of a country or a state, when they are considered as a group’ (Hornby, 2000, p.700).

The judiciary in the UK is dominated by Oxbridge educated white middle-class men. It is estimated that three quarters of all judges in England and Wales are male and 95% are white (Lieven, 2017). The gender imbalance can be well illustrated by looking at the Supreme Court. There is only one woman among the 12 Justices on the Supreme Court. Lady Hale is the only woman ever to serve on the Court and all of the judges are and have always been white. Only Armenia and Azerbaijan have lower proportions of women in their judiciary than the UK (Lieven, 2017). This is unacceptable in 2018, changes must be made to address this gender imbalance.

In terms of race, as at 1 April 2017, only 7% of court judges were Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). Of these Asian and Asian British accounted for 3% and the remaining three groups, Black and Black British, Mixed Ethnicity and Other Ethnic Group at around 1% each (Ministry of Justice, 2017).

This shows that judges are not reflective of wider society. This is a significant problem because the public should be confident that the judiciary delivers justice fairly. The lack of diversity means that concerns about the legitimacy and objectivity of judgements may be raised.

There are three main explanations for the continuing lack of diversity. The first explanation is that there are not enough women, BAME people and people from less privileged backgrounds who would be suitable for appointment. However, I would question the validity of this argument. This explanation seems to suggest that women or BAME people might be lacking lacking adequate knowledge or experience. There is no evidence to support this argument.

The second explanation given is that women and BAME candidates do not apply for appointment. However, it could be argued that the issue is more complicated than simply failing to apply. For example, Allen (2009) found that when BAME candidates and solicitors do apply for appointment they are significantly less likely to be successful than white candidates or barristers. This shows that the issue is not the lack of applications received from women or BAME candidates but perhaps the discriminatory recruitment process.

The third explanation is that the key principle governing our appointments to judicial office is merit. Unfortunately, the term ‘merit’ is not defined, but the implication is that achieving merit and diversity are at odds.

In conclusion, the lack of diversity in the judicial system is very concerning and should be addressed as soon as possible. This needs to be done to ensure that our justice system is fair, accessible and efficient. It is in our interest to produce a judiciary of the highest quality that reflects the make-up of our nation. Difference should be valued and not feared.

References

Allen, A (2009) Barriers to Application for Judicial Appointment Research. London: Judicial Appointments Commission.
Hornby, A.S (2000) Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lieven, N (2017) Increasing judicial diversity. London: Justice.
The Ministry of Justice (2017) Judicial Diversity Statistics 2017. London: MOJ.

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The never-changing face of justice

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There are occasions that I consider more fundamental questions beyond criminology, such as the nature of justice.  Usually whilst reading some new sentencing guidelines or new procedures but on occasions major events such as the fire at Grenfell and the ensuing calls from former residents for accountability and of course justice!  There are good reasons why contemplating the nature of justice is so important in any society especially one that has recently embarked on a constitutional discussion following the Brexit referendum.

Justice is perhaps one of the most interesting concepts in criminology; both intangible and tangible at the same time.  In every day discourses we talk about the Criminal Justice System as a very precise order of organisations recognising its systemic nature or as a clear journey of events acknowledging its procedural progression.  Both usually are summed up on the question I pose to students; is justice a system or a process?  Of course, those who have considered this question know only too well that justice is both at different times.  As a system, justice provides all those elements that make it tangible to us; a great bureaucracy that serves the delivery of justice, a network of professions (many of which are staffed by our graduates) and a structure that (seemingly) provides us all with a firm sense of equity.  As a process, we identify each stage of justice as an autonomous entity, unmolested by bias, thus ensuring that all citizens are judged on the same scales.  After all, lady justice is blind but fair!

This is our justice system since 1066 when the Normans brought the system we recognise today and even when, despite uprisings and revolutions such as the one that led to the 1215 signing of the Magna Carta, many facets of the system have remained quite the same.  An obvious deduction from this is that the nature of justice requires stability and precedent in order to function.  Tradition seems to captivate people; we only need a short journey to the local magistrates’ court to see centuries old traditions unfold. I imagine that for any time traveler, the court is probably the safest place to be, as little will seem to them to be out of place.

So far, we have been talking about justice as a tangible entity as used by professionals daily.  What about the other side of justice?  The intangible concept on fairness, equal opportunity and impartiality?  This part is rather contentious and problematic. This is the part that people call upon when they say justice for Grenfell, justice for Stephen Lawrence, justice for Hillsborough.  The people do not simply want a mechanism nor a process, but they want the reassurance that justice is not a privilege but a cornerstone of civic life.  The irony here; is that the call for justice, among the people who formed popular campaigns that either led or will lead to inquiries often expose the inadequacies, failings and injustices that exist(ed) in our archaic system.

These campaigns, have made obvious something incredibly important, that justice should not simply appear to be fair, but it must be fair and most importantly, has to learn and coincide with the times.  So lady justice may be blind, but she may need to come down and converse with the people that she seeks to serve, because without them she will become a fata morgana,a vision that will not satisfy its ideals nor its implementation.  Then justice becomes another word devoid of meaning and substance.  Thirty years to wait for an justice is an incredibly long time and this is perhaps this may be the lesson we all need to carry forward.

Justice on Trial

Witness for the Prosecution

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be treated to theatre tickets for Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. The setting – London’s County Hall – was exquisite, the play sublime and the actors fabulous. An afternoon of sheer escapism, even for a die hard Christie fan like myself. Having read the short story/play many times is no replacement for seeing this on the stage. The theatre offers the opportunity to see the action from all perspectives; you can put yourself in the shoes of the defendant, the court actors and of course, the witnesses. Such a perspective vividly demonstrates the immense power of the State, not only through physical violence (although this is also evident) but through verbal dexterity.  To see the defendant – Leonard Vole – on trial; so small and defenceless against the majesty of the courtroom, is thought provoking. Furthermore, this environment is staffed by legal professionals, who unlike him, understand the world in which they operate. The cut and thrust of legalistic argument performed in the play (and in modern day courts daily) conceals the sheer ferocity of authority’s attack on the individual. Remember at the time the play was written, the death penalty was still in force, and Leonard Vole is on trial for the capital crime of murder. In essence, he is openly fighting for his very life, but subjected to the machinations and mediation of professionals who openly profess to be seeking justice. When he tries to speak, to argue, to cajole, he is silenced. There is no place for the defendant’s perspective unless it is expressed via the mandated professional who speaks on his (or her) behalf.

In the twenty-first century (and indeed, for the latter part of the twentieth century), capital punishment in the UK has not been a sentencing option. Whilst defendants may not be faced with a possible date with the hangman, the finality of sentencing and punishment is no laughing matter. Whilst there is no doubt that dramatic denouements have their place in the theatre, in the serious business of the criminal courts such antics seem out of place. If we look at the criminal court as a theatrical scene, we start to observe all manner of incongruity (cf. Carlen, 1976). For starters; the language used and the costumes worn. For anyone that has ever grappled to understand the works of Shakespeare or the Brontë’s, such reading requires patience and perseverance to understand the beauty of such writing.   In 2018, we would not request that our surgeons operate on us without the benefit of anaesthesia, neither would we want to be treated with procedures such as bloodletting or trepanning. Similarly, we don’t expect soldiers to carry muskets or form into schiltrons just because that’s how it used to be. Yet we accept and arguably, expect our courts to run as if they were stuck in time. What chance does the individual defendant have in this archaic, theatrical setting? After all, they are the star of the show, yet they have neither costume, nor the opportunity to learn their lines. It is hard to argue, that such practices are conducive to the pursuit of justice.

On the surface, going to the theatre appears to offer a pleasurable break from academia, yet the reality is it offers the opportunity to consider criminology from a novel perspective. Reading (and you all know how keen I am on reading!!) is only part of Criminology; talking, listening, thinking and exploring away from the classroom are equally important. My advice; get out, explore – the arts; theatre, cinema, literature, museums – and add this experiential knowledge to your academic studies. See things from a different perspective and unleash your Criminological Imagination (Young, 2011).

References:

Carlen, Pat, (1976), ‘The Staging of Magistrates’ Justice,’ The British Journal of Criminology, 16, 1: 48–55

Christie, Agatha, (2018), Witness for the Prosecution, Directed by Lucy Bailey. London County Hall, [11 February 2018]

Young, Jock, (2011), The Criminological Imagination, (London: Polity)

A Problem with the Criminal Justice System?

Nahida is a BA Criminology graduate of 2017. Her dissertation, ‘On Degradation and Shaming’ explored the problems noted in this post. 

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Throughout studying for a Criminology degree, we are lectured upon the causation of crime, and how there is no, one single cause. However, it is interesting to see how the stereotypes that were once instilled inside us, are no longer a part of our daily voice of reason. We begin to question the very organisation, many of us want to become a part of; that being the criminal justice system itself. We come to realise, that the system, as most things is flawed.

It is public knowledge that the criminal justice system is full to the brim with defendants, offenders, victims and the innocent; amongst many other people. Therefore, as a result of these massive caseloads, the whole process from a crime being reported, to the guilty being sentenced, can become similar to a factory-line; making the procedure very impersonal. Justice can often be delayed and denied. This has a huge impact on all the parties involved; including the ones accused of a crime i.e. the defendants.

Throughout the whole process, defendants can often feel as though they are being discriminated against. It has been found that the criminal justice system, particularly the courtrooms create distance between society and the defendant. Courtrooms in England and Wales are set up in a manner in which the defendants are removed, and made to stand out of the ordinary. They are often placed in their own cage of sorts, and told to not speak, unless spoken to. This can leave defendants, who are potentially innocent, feel degraded and shamed. Courtrooms can often leave defendants without a voice, prohibiting them to feel, or even express remorse. Disallowing an offender to express remorse, can be detrimental to their rehabilitation; and even the victim’s lives. We, as a society, can have hope for criminal rehabilitation, but the way in which our justice system is set up, can hinder that very process.

Through observations made at the local crown court, it has been found that judges tend to not address the causation of the supposed crime. It is understood that people do not commit crime in a vacuum. Something has to lead them to it. Therefore, not allowing one to truly comprehend what has caused the alleged crime in the first place, can be argued as problematic, for the root issue cannot be solved, if it is not identified in the first place. This could be argued as one of the many reasons why there still remains to be a high reoffending rate. To stop reoffending, one must address the causation. However, it can be found that many parts of our criminal justice system does not perform such investigations. Therefore, how can we expect the system to achieve its aim of reducing crime, when it is potentially causing further criminality, without even intending to?

 

 

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