Submission to the Justice Committee inquiry on public opinion and understanding of sentencing
20 July 2022
“This response highlights four barriers to improved public awareness about sentencing, all of which undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system:
“a. the politicisation of sentencing, which disincentivises honest communication with the public;
“b. public reliance on representations of criminal justice in the media and popular culture, which appeal to their audiences’ existing perceptions (or to what they will find shocking or exciting);
“c. the inaccessibility of the law in the absence of widespread public legal education, which leaves members of the public and even people who have themselves been sentenced unsure how sentences work;
“d. the lack of deliberative engagement on sentencing, and the tendency to only discuss sentencing in relation to individual, high-profile cases.
“These barriers could be addressed through more meaningful engagement with the public on sentencing. A citizens’ assembly on sentencing would be a good start, as proposed by the recent Independent Commission into the Experiences of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners.
“The general direction of sentencing policy should be informed by public judgment – the views of a representative sample of the public who are given the chance to learn and deliberate – rather than by superficial public opinion polling.”