Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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In Chapter Six, the book concludes by arguing for a broad approach to open justice that recognises the importance of public participation in a model of justice system accountability and does not wholly rely on the news media as a proxy for transparency.

The authors suggest implementing more nuanced and evidence-based approaches to open justice that respond to advances in digital technologies and, in doing so, also attempt to lessen systemic and individualistic harms, including stigmatisation. Recommendations centre on widening public interest court reporting, improving justice data availability and accountability, and increasing resources and investment in the facilitation of public access.

Such an approach prioritises public legal education and access to justice, as well as effective scrutiny of the criminal justice system. The authors contend that the practical application of open justice demands regular scrutiny and debate, to take account of changes in the way that society and the courts work. Overall, their work demonstrates how the principle can be effectively dissected, by attending to the practical realities of its application, and by testing its objectives through socio-legal research.

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Chapter Two provides historical context on the way in which open justice and accountability have developed in England and Wales. It considers modes of accountability in the criminal process, public participation in the criminal courts, and its development in recent decades.

It looks at the place of open justice in a wider tradition of justice system accountability, sitting alongside and underpinning other important tools. As part of this exercise, the authors detail the main methods for contemporary observation of physical criminal court hearings and access to different information types, drawing attention to the main obstacles and gatekeepers.

They also explore the main theoretical rationales for the contemporary approach to open justice which, it is suggested, can be categorised as punitive (shaming), deterring, educational, scrutable (ensuring fairness and proper conduct). The chapter then critiques these various arguments, proposing that understandings of justice system accountability need to recognise their weaknesses and strengths.

The authors introduce one of their core arguments, that policy and law makers should prioritise informational transparency as a means of scrutiny and education, rather than as a means of an individual’s punishment and deterrence.

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Chapter Five draws attention to a much-overlooked aspect of open justice: the implications and side-effects of publicity, arising from both the availability and unavailability of information. Some of these effects have been amplified by digital technology, such as the development of global search engines which are perceived to create indefinite online records of individuals’ criminal convictions.

Undoubtedly, there is a cost and human impact to publicity of criminal court proceedings, whether it is justified as unavoidable collateral harm of the process – or seen as an unwarranted and damaging intrusion of privacy. But equally, in other contexts, there can be a cost for freedom of expression and access to justice in the absence of information.

Though the authors cannot offer full answers based on their preliminary research on the impact of publicity on defendants in the criminal courts (indeed, they contend, some tensions between privacy and transparency can never be ironed out), they propose that systems should be designed to maximise equal and fair outcomes; minimise unnecessary stigmatisation and intrusion on the individuals; and avoid further entrenching existing societal exclusion and inequalities.

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This first chapter introduces the book’s focal theme: the principle and practice of open justice in criminal courts in what is often characterised as the ‘digital age’. That is, the way in which court hearings and information about cases are made publicly accessible in the context of digital and technological advances in the 21st century, and the relationship to principles of transparency, access to justice and accountability.

The authors introduce recent developments in open justice policy and technology in England and Wales that raise, they contend, neglected practical and ideological issues relating to access to justice, individuals’ privacy, and public access to information.

As well as setting out the authors’ methodological approach and the core themes of participatory accountability and transparency, the chapter explains why the book pays particular attention to the functioning and scrutiny of the Magistrates’ courts within the criminal justice system.

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Chapter Three considers the operationalisation of open justice in the context of modernisation, digitalisation and data developments. It focuses on aspects of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) programme of modernisation and digital reform including the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) for the prosecution of minor offences, video-enabled justice (VEJ), as well as digitalisation of data processes.

The authors consider a range of questions: how is information about an entirely administrative or virtual process communicated to the public? How is justice system data being collected, processed, and disseminated online, by different public and private sector actors? And to what extent do digital court processes enable the public to engage in the justice system and hold it to account?

The chapter also looks at equality of access to digital justice systems, in terms of funding, technological and legal literacy, as well as access to tools. In this context, the authors discuss power relationships and how technology is changing the dynamic and interactions of the digital and physical court room, making participation more difficult and undermining justice system accountability.

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Digital Transparency, Openness and Accountability in Criminal Courts
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This book examines how major but often under-scrutinised legal, social, and technological developments have affected the transparency and accountability of the criminal justice process.

Drawing on empirical and evaluative studies, as well as their own research experiences, the authors explore key legal policy issues such as equality of access, remote and virtual courts, justice system data management, and the roles of public and media observers.

Highlighting the implications of recent changes for access to justice, offender rehabilitation, and public access to information, the book proposes a framework for open justice which prioritises public legal education and justice system accountability.

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Chapter Four delves beneath the surface level understanding of open justice, looking at the mechanics of the principle: the roles of different media and civil society actors, the design of the channels and platforms and the financial costs (among other features). Because of the idiosyncratically decentralised and piecemeal nature of the justice system, many practices have evolved over time, in inefficient and unjust ways, without purposive design. Some of the inconsistencies have become more apparent and problematic in virtual environments.

As well as attending to the practical detail of court observers’ work, the authors unpack the rationales justifying observers’ presence in court and begin to develop a conceptualisation of open justice that thinks beyond the news media and traditional model of court reporting, despite the trend for limiting certain access to the ‘accredited’ press. In doing so, they consider factors of ‘justice-worthiness’ as well as the ‘newsworthiness’ of cases in court. The chapter also exposes how systemic failures are often mechanical rather than legal faults.

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Criminal Justice has over the centuries reflected the way in which a society has tried to address infringements of the law which cause harm to others or to society. Over a long period of time it was characterized by the degree of harshness in the way it adjudged those thought to have committed a crime and the often cruel way in which it punished them, though Wales was one of the exceptions to this in the age of its Kings.

Today we generally approach the issues with a wider compass, looking at how we address the causes of crime, the way we seek to prevent it and the need for a just and fair procedure to determine guilt or innocence. For the most part, we accept there are no easy answers to the determination of punishment for those found guilty or the way in which that punishment is administered.

The attitude of society to the approach that should be taken to these issues and the money that will be provided to address them depend upon a balanced and clear understanding of the way in which criminal justice is administered. The great merit of this study, as the reader will have learnt, is that it provides such a balanced and clear understanding in relation to Wales based on careful objective research.

As has been made clear, research in relation to Wales is greatly needed. The attitude of the government in London over a long period of time, as so well summarized in the Foreword, has meant that evidence, research and statistical information that consider the distinctive position in Wales are scant; they been submerged by the far greater volume of information about England. It is the real achievement of the authors that a considerable amount of evidence has been obtained and in-depth research conducted to set out the problems as they exist in Wales.

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In the preceding chapter we examined the stories of those involved in the research, detailing how they came into the criminal justice system – whether as practitioners or as an accused or family member. This included drawing out key themes such as the impact of underfunding on criminal justice institutions and the role played by the accuseds’ level of previous contact with the criminal justice system. We build thereon in this chapter by focusing on the place – south Wales, two decades into the 21st century – adding a further layer of detail that is crucial to understanding the experiences of criminal justice examined in this book. Just as the stories of the participants are important in understanding the experiences that we relay and analyse, so too are the stories that emerge from considering the region in which our research took place.

Criminal justice research has largely neglected the issue of place as a core consideration (Newman, 2016a).1 This may sometimes be due to ethical requirements such as the assurance of anonymity, but it may also arise out of concerns regarding ‘case studies’ being discounted through the desire to demonstrate generalizability.2 Our work is informed by a legal geography approach,3 investigating the co-constitutive but uneasy relationship between people, place and law (Bennett and Layard, 2015). In this chapter – expanding on detail from Chapter 1 (outlining the case for Wales as a site of criminal justice study) and Chapter 2 (describing south Wales and charting some of the impacts of criminal justice cuts) – we focus on the region of south Wales.

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In the previous chapter, we considered some of the pressures that criminal justice practitioners faced and the resultant negative impact on the criminal process. The chapter examined problems stemming from inadequate legal aid and the way that this undermined criminal legal practice. In this chapter, we consider how those pressures impact upon relationships – operating within the parameters imposed by underfunding – between different parties in the criminal process.

Within this chapter we examine the experiences of ‘others’ in the criminal process, specifically those accused of committing criminal offences, interrogating how various parties within the criminal process understood their own experiences and those of others. The roles of actors within the criminal justice system may have a bearing on the values within the system (McConville and Marsh, 2014). In particular, the shift between ‘due process’ to ‘criminal control’ has signalled an anti-accused ideology with increasing police corruption, decreasing evidential standards, lawyers’ antagonism towards clients, harsher sentences, and inducements for guilty pleas (McConville and Marsh, 2014). Indeed, previous research has pointed towards the need to investigate interactions between key actors in a holistic manner (Newman and Ugwudike, 2013).1 Through examining interactions and relationships, we can understand how the process is experienced and, crucially, how it operates.

A prominent subject emerging from our research is how important it is for good relations to be built between various actors. While individuals and parties to the process may hold different worldviews and possess varying responsibilities, it was evident that essential to the functioning of the criminal justice system was the establishment of some common ground.

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