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Launch of Research Report - Evidence Review of Confidence in Criminal Justice Systems

  • Department of Justice & Equality publishes research report on confidence in the criminal justice system
  • Key drivers of confidence are effective communication with system users; perceptions of local neighbourhood anti-social behaviour and cohesion; visibility of the police; access to information; knowledge about the criminal justice system and whether it is perceived as treating people with fairness, dignity and respect.
  • Report highlights the importance of procedural justice and the significance of personal experience in shaping trust in the criminal justice system.
  • Another key message concerned the importance of trust in the justice system and of police’s engagement with the community

The Department of Justice and Equality today launched the findings from an international literature review on confidence in criminal justice systems.

Undertaken to assist policy formation in the department, the review sought to address a range of questions relating to how public confidence in the criminal justice system is measured in different countries, what drives that confidence, and what measures have been deployed to improve it.

Having analysed 168 unique journal articles and 17 government reports, the key findings identified by the researchers included that:

  • Confidence and trust in justice is clearly a multidimensional concept
  • It is important to differentiate between dimensions of fairness and effectiveness when dealing with performance
  • Those dimensions need to be assessed across all parts of the system, i.e. police, courts, prisons and probation
  • It is important to differentiate between confidence at local and national level
  • It is helpful to measure levels of confidence comparatively – against other public bodies
  • Because of the complexity of the concept, it is important not to treat findings of public opinion surveys in the area uncritically

The report, which was prepared by Professor Claire Hamilton and Dr. Lynsey Black of Maynooth University, was launched by the Research and Data Analytics unit in the Department. 

It is the second in a series of pieces of research that have been commissioned by the Research and Data Analytics unit and builds on the Department’s commitment, outlined in the 2018-2020 Data and Research Strategy, to support the development of more evidence-informed policy making.

Focusing on the question of how confidence in criminal justice systems is best conceptualised and operationalised, the report draws on both government-commissioned reports and peer-reviewed studies published in journals to provide a comprehensive picture of how public confidence is measured in national surveys and in the academic literature. It goes on to explore the high-level trends and patterns in public confidence/trust in the criminal justice system and its constituent parts, both in Ireland and internationally in recent decades.

Areas covered in the report include:

  • Information on metrics/measures of confidence across numerous jurisdictions;
  • confidence in policing, prosecution, courts proceedings, probation and prisons;
  • criminal justice effectiveness and fairness at both a local and national level;
  • experiences of crime victimisation and their impact on confidence;
  • improving encounters between the justice system and the public (procedural justice); and
  • restorative justice.

In addition to examining how confidence varies by demographic variables such as gender, age, and ethnicity/race, the review examines the impact of contact with the system, perceptions of crime and anti-social behaviour, police visibility, media use, victimisation, knowledge of criminal system, and attitudes to sentencing.

The review will also constitute a valuable resource for researchers and act as a springboard for future empirical research on best practice in this area and provide a body of evidence essential to inform future policy discussions and development. The department is currently exploring methods to develop a measure for confidence in the criminal justice system in Ireland to build on the existing research in this area.

Secretary General of the Department, Aidan O’Driscoll, stated

As this research review states, it is clear that confidence in the criminal justice system is a complex and multidimensional concept. Professor Hamilton and Dr. Black have provided us with an essential learning for our approach to improving confidence in the criminal justice system. They have highlighted two sets of issues for us; firstly issues around the administration of the justice system and secondly the need to focus on the fairness of the system.

Mr. O’Driscoll continued, 

Meaningful contact and effective communication are key. It makes absolute sense that the provision of good quality information to system users increases confidence. People need to see and hear from the system at all stages of their engagement in the processes of justice. If a system user experience is one of having been treated with fairness, dignity and respect, this is a crucial marker as to the impact that contact with the system has on public trust.

The full report will be available on the Department’s website from noon today.


Notes to Editors

  • This work builds on the Department’s commitment, outlined in the 2018-2020 Data and Research Strategy, to support the development of more evidence-informed policy making.
  • Following a substantial Programme of Transformation throughout 2019, a new operating model has been implemented in the Department, increased capability in the Policy space will ensure that the Department is developing holistic, research-based long-term policy, through research and analysis from multiple sources. It will ensure that we are adopting a proactive and strategic view of Justice and Equality Policy formulation and review, providing “best-in-class” advice to Ministers and Government in the long-term interest of all citizens.
  • Background information on authors/researchers of the report: Prior to joining Maynooth University Prof. Hamilton worked for several years as a lecturer in criminology in Dublin Institute of Technology and Queen's University Belfast. She has published widely in various legal and criminological journals including the British Journal of Criminology and the European Journal of Criminology. Dr. Lynsey Black is Lecturer in Criminology at the Department of Law, Maynooth University. Her research interests include gender and punishment, the international death penalty, and historical criminology. She is an editor of the recently published Law and Gender in Modern Ireland: Critique and Reform.