I’ve done a couple of articles now on criminology and criminological theory, but I thought before I explain or discuss any further, I should look in a little more detail at the criminal justice system itself as it stands today. By understanding how the system is now and how it works we can then understand how to make it better and can better put criminological theory in place to try and improve it.
To begin, our criminal justice system is an adversarial one. This refers to how the trial process works, and there are two types; adversarial and inquisitorial. An adversarial system like our own assumes that the suspect is innocent until they are proven guilty. The court must prove that the suspect is guilty to win the case or no further action will be taken. The judge in this process is impartial and acts only as a referee between the suspect’s side and the side of the victim. The two sides fight it out in the courtroom for who is at fault, and a jury makes the ultimate decision.
In an inquisitorial system, such as the one they have in France, the suspect is guilty until proven innocent. An inquiry is carried out, whereby the judge themselves will collect all of the evidence and examine it before making a decision about the suspects guilt. Some consider this a fairer system, since the judge will have no role in the case and so can make an unbiased decision, whereas in the adversarial system, those who can afford better lawyers have a greater chance of winning a case, making the system designed to help those in the upper classes and to handicap those in the lower classes. On the other hand, in our system at least, there is no implied guilt for the defendant until the case is over and they have been proved beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty.
In our system there are also two major types of court. The Crown Court and the Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrates’ court is the lower of the two and they are often quite local. They deal with small scale crimes, such as theft and vandalism. On the other hand, the Crown Court is designed to deal with high level violent crimes such as murder. Because there are fewer of these crimes, Crown courts are less local and tend to be found in bigger cities. There is also the Supreme Court, where the largest scale criminal cases are held and those with a large amount of press interest. Civil law cases (those which are based around families and business contracts) tend to be carried out much more privately and in a lawyer’s office as opposed to one of the previously mentioned criminal courts.
In Magistrates’ Courts, the decisions will be made by either a group of 3 magistrates or in slightly higher-level cases, by a single judge. The difference is that the judge will be more formally trained in law, while the magistrates will simply be advised by a trained lawyer when making their decision. On the other hand in Crown Courts, a judge will be referee to the proceedings, but a jury (a group of 12 ordinary people selected from the electoral register) will make the final decision.
There are many controversies around the system already as I have briefly discussed here, such as whether our adversarial system is a fair one to use or whether juries should be used in all cases as opposed to just the most major ones, though of course this may result in cost and efficiency problems. Through studying criminology we can develop the tools to help us answer these questions and I hope from my articles you will be able to form your own opinions on matters such as these.
Image from: http://www.asef.org/images/stories/asefenewsletter/images/3Jan2011/criminaljusticesystem2_small.jpg