This year, Professor Carolyn Hoyle opened the seminar, presenting her recent research on the impact of false accusations of abuse on professionals who work in positions of trust with children or vulnerable adults. Her research has demonstrated that the experience of being falsely accused causes enduring trauma, even for those who are not arrested, prosecuted or convicted. The discussion that followed explored whether our increasingly ‘victim-centred’ criminal justice system was now failing to recognize the rights of the accused, with some officers feeling that the pendulum had swung too far, but others adamant that our system must stay victim-focused.
In session 2, Professor Lucia Zedner gave a talk on the problems of policing civility and preventing anti-social behaviour in public space. Her focus was on new legal measures, introduced under the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, in particular a new breed of executive order, the Public Spaces Protection Order. She invited those present to consider the problems that arise when the power to determine what constitutes conduct that has a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ is delegated down to local authorities and the implications for policing when enforcement of these orders is handed over to local authorities’ officials, to local wardens and to private security firms. Her talk considered the changing nature of policing in public space and the risks entailed when those who spend most time in public space (the homeless, the poor, the young) are subject to restrictions and exclusions in order to make public spaces more welcoming for ‘the law-abiding majority’.
And in the final session of the morning, Professor Ian Loader talked about ‘private security in the public interest’. He presented a case study of heroic interventions by private security officers and how the tension between wanting to celebrate heroism and manage the risks it creates is managed in the BSIA ‘Outstanding Act’ awards process. He used this case study to raise a wider question about whether and how private security can serve not merely their customers but a wider public interest.
Professor Julian Roberts, started the afternoon sessions by providing an overview of key issues in the area of sentencing in England and Wales. These include: the use of custody as a disposal; the need for greater guidance, particularly in the Magistrates' courts; and the use of different mitigating and aggravating factors. The session concluded with an examination of the sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, and a discussion about current reform initiatives including plea-based sentence reductions.
Dr Ben Bradford talked about his experiments with traffic police in Scotland in the context of organisational justice and ethics. Using findings from a follow up study of intervention failure in an experiment into procedural justice, Ben explored the extent to which ethnical behaviour in policing - ‘doing the right things for the right reason’ - can be encouraged or conversely undermined by organisational structures and processes. It may be that justice and fairness within the police organisation can motivate more ethical behaviour among its members and a shift in the quality of interaction between police and public.
Finally, the day ended with a lively research panel on doctoral work at the Centre. Dr Roxana Willis talked about the role of community in restorative justice, making clear that working class participants, particularly defendants, fared less well in such dialogic environments and were at a disadvantage compared to middle class victims and offenders who had more ‘social’ and ‘cultural capital’. Dr Marie Tidball presented findings from her research on ‘The governance of offenders with autistic spectrum conditions in the CJS’, focusing on one of her cases that demonstrates the perverse effects of inadequate social care on autistic defendants who are brought into the criminal justice system in order to receive appropriate support. And Mr Cian O’Concubhair, who is at an earlier stage of his research, part of which is being facilitated by Thames Valley Police, spoke about contemporary police communications and police-media relations in a post-Leveson climate. As always, Thames Valley Police officers and staff asked interesting and sometimes rather tough questions, contributed comments that help us to develop further our work, and corrected our errors in understanding. Lively debates were had following each of our presentations and conversations continued into the breaks. A long day but a very enjoyable one!