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What if? A series of challenging pamphlets

What is ‘What if…?’

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Mannheim Centre at the London School of Economics are working in partnership to establish a pamphlet series that challenges conventional thinking on penal issues. We are working with established and well thought of thinkers, academics and practitioners to develop innovative, and perhaps controversial, ideas that can work as a stimulus to new policy initiatives and ultimately achieve change.

How it works

We are keen to test, challenge and improve the initial ideas to be promulgated in the pamphlet. To achieve this, the author subjects their ideas to ‘peer review’ at an invitee seminar, with the ideas initially subject to scrutiny from one or two discussants and then from the invited audience.

Following the seminar the author is invited to prepare the paper for publication.


Previous events

What if we abolished the dock? Rethinking court design and court ritual

The event was held on Tuesday 14 November 2017, 6.30–8.30pm at the London School of Economics

This debate brought together academics and legal professionals to debate the fairness of placing the accused in an enclosed dock during a criminal trial.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has long been concerned with the placement of the accused at a criminal trial, launching an early campaign in the 1970s to abolish the use of dock to confine the accused during a trial. Since that period, docks have become ever more commonplace and fortified, with defendants routinely enclosed in glass during a criminal hearing or trial. This seminar provided a forum to challenge this practice.

Two speakers made the case for abolishing docks: Professor Linda Mulcahy (LSE) presented new research on the recent history and use of the dock, drawing on archival data from the Ministry of Justice to challenge the very basis of the widespread implementation of docks across England and Wales. Dr. Meredith Rossner (LSE) presented research from an experiment examining whether the use of docks undermines the presumption of innocence.


  • Professor Peter Ramsay, LSE (Chair)
  • Chris Henley, Vice Chair. Criminal Bar Association
  • Abigail Bright, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers
  • Paula Backen, intermediary with vulnerable witnesses

You can download the podcast from the event here.

What if we rethought parole?

The event was held on Tuesday 22 June 2017 the London School of Economics

This event aimed to look at the workings of the parole system in England and Wales. More specifically what if it is for the State to prove to the Parole Board that a prisoner is not safe for release?  More people are serving indeterminate prison sentences in England and Wales than in the other 46 countries in the Council of Europe combined. Academics and criminal justice professionals challenged the current system for deciding if someone can safely be released from prison and suggest an alternative way of approaching risk and release from prison for those serving the longest sentences.

The panel:

  • Professor Nicola Padfield, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
  • Professor Nick Hardwick, Chair, Parole Board
  • Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director, Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Chair: Dr Meredith Rossner, LSE

You can download the podcast from the event here.

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