If one might be tempted to assume that the transition from conflict to peace is a smooth process, McAlinden and Dwyer’s valuable edited collection—Criminal Justice in Transition: The Northern Ireland Context—dispels that fallacy very effectively. Since the conflict in Northern Ireland began in the late 1960s, it has resulted in over 3,700 deaths and 40,000 people injured. While the level of violence diminished greatly following the 1998 Belfast Agreement, deep political divisions remain (evidenced by further ‘agreements’ to address outstanding issues) and the social consequences of conflict are plainly visible. Small paramilitary groupings opposed to the peace process continue to pose a security threat. Widespread public disturbances over parades and the flying of flags have been a recurrent feature of recent years. There are now more ‘peace lines’—high walls erected at interface areas to provide a security barrier between loyalist and republican communities—than there were during the conflict itself (the Northern Ireland Executive’s goal is for them to be removed by 2023). Residential areas remain highly segregated, and only about 5 per cent of school children attend integrated schools. Northern Ireland’s suicide rate is the highest in the United Kingdom (it rose significantly following the peace process), and the prescription rate for anti-depressant medicines is one of the highest in the world. This ‘transitional’ context is the backdrop against which a major transformation of the criminal justice sphere occurred in Northern Ireland, and which is explored in detail in the 17 chapters that comprise this volume. As the conflict drew to an end, one of the key features of public and political debate was how the business of justice would be done in the future. A range of major reviews—most prominently, through the work of the Independent Commission on Policing and the Criminal Justice Review—and initiatives were undertaken, and the landscape of the criminal justice system changed in far-reaching ways. Dickson highlights the scale of what was involved: ‘Today it is as a new brush has swept across the land. Virtually every aspect of the system has undergone root and branch reform, or is well on the way to that position’ (p.67). Criminal Justice in Transition offers an analysis of these measures, demonstrating the complexities involved in the establishment of a wide range of new initiatives and institutions, and charting how they have developed in an unfolding political environment and in the aftermath of 30 years of violent conflict. The first section provides historical context and conceptual frameworks for understanding some of the key dimensions of the transitional process. Lawther’s chapter discusses approaches to dealing with the past—an issue that has haunted the political process and the criminal justice sphere alike, but that remains unresolved, despite the huge political, social and economic costs involved. The significance of her discussion is evident in every chapter of the book. Harvey charts the increasing prominence of human rights discourse within the criminal justice sphere in Northern Ireland, although as he notes, rhetorical commitment to human rights has far exceeded its implementation. In looking at the ‘agents of change’ that drove the process of criminal justice reform, Dickson highlights the importance of a favourable security environment, political will and adequate resources. He also praises the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, describing it as ‘something of an unsung hero’ for the ‘hugely significant’ role it has played in providing robust evaluations of the various organizations within the criminal justice system (pp.80–81). As levels of conflict diminished and the extraordinary measures that characterized criminal justice in Northern Ireland became less prominent, Dwyer provides a critical analysis of the shift in risk paradigms from a model based on the threat of political violence to one largely focused on ‘ordinary’ crime. The second and largest section of the book examines different aspects of the criminal justice process, with chapters on policing (Topping), judicial appointments (Morison), the role of judges during the conflict (McEvoy and Schwartz), prisons (Scraton), prisoner reintegration (Dwyer), probation (Carr) and dealing with miscarriages of justice (Requa). These chapters straddle historical concerns and more recent institutional developments. Topping’s account of police reform highlights the innovative approach taken by the Independent Commission on Policing. In spite of the general acclaim the Report and its implementation has received, he provides an important note of caution in terms of the extent to which these measures have actually met the vision of ‘policing with the community’ articulated by the Commission. If policing was considered one of the success stories of criminal justice reform, Scraton demonstrates that the same cannot be said for the prison system. There the transition from a system largely modelled on dealing with paramilitary prisoners to one based on ‘ordinary’ prisoners was the subject of repeated criticism. The recommendations of the Prison Review Team largely remain to be implemented, and Scraton concludes that despite a relatively low prison population, Northern Ireland’s prisons have ‘continued to fail when assessed against minimum international standards expected of an advanced democratic society’ (p.205). Dwyer notes that over the course of the conflict some 30,000 people were either interned or imprisoned for conflict-related offences. Typically these individuals rejected claims that they needed to be ‘reintegrated’ into their communities, on the basis that they already viewed themselves as deeply integrated into their communities (viewing their offences as evidence of their commitment to these communities). The role that many ex-prisoners in Northern Ireland play in community organizations raises interesting questions about the potentially positive role that former inmates can play in a variety of settings. In the case of probation officers, Carr discusses their historical refusal to deal with ‘politically motivated offenders’, a position of ‘neutrality’ which enabled them to function in areas and contexts where other state agencies could not, and with a strong welfare emphasis (reflecting their social work background). In recent years, there has been a shift to a more risk-based ‘public protection’ ethos, mirroring developments in England and Wales. The third section examines a range of thematic issues. Moore and Wahidin demonstrate that a prison system historically structured largely around the containment of male paramilitary prisoners remains poorly attuned to meeting the needs of female prisoners. Haydon and McAllister outline a range of initiatives in the field of youth justice, including the mainstreaming of youth restorative justice conferences (a scheme that has been assessed in very positive terms internationally). McAlinden considers public attitudes and policy responses to sex offending. While some legislative measures follow steps taken in England and Wales, local factors also play a significant role, including the historical role that paramilitary organizations have played in administering beatings or other ‘punishments’ to alleged criminals. Eriksson’s analysis of restorative justice schemes highlights the difficulties involved in addressing crime in areas where the police were considered illegitimate or problematic. The development of initiatives in republican and loyalist areas in an effort to provide a non-violent alternative to paramilitary punishments was very controversial, but gradually these have become more mainstreamed. Eriksson suggests that the principles of restorative justice are highly applicable to transitional settings and, drawing on Bauman’s work, she offers an ambitious account of restorative justice’s potential to contribute, case by case, to macro-level changes that counteract the normalization of violence and help build ‘proximity’ between communities; although practitioners, she notes, highlighted ‘time’ as the most important factor in reducing tension between communities (p.356). In the concluding chapter, McAlinden and Dwyer reflect on the ‘complex hybridisation’ (p.368) of the development of the criminal justice system in this transitional moment. It is clear that Northern Ireland’s social and political context sets it apart from many other jurisdictions, but equally many aspects of its legal system reflect policy developments in England and Wales, and peace and stability may lead to yet greater alignment. They note, for instance, that the devolution of policing and justice ‘has made little if any significant difference to the shape and direction of criminal justice policy and practice in Northern Ireland’, although it may be ‘simply too early to make any discerning judgements’ (p.374). However, it is also clear that the conflict and its aftermath have led to particular developments, some of which are best seen in the rear view mirror, but other aspects of which entail innovative and progressive responses to the challenges of providing a fair and effective criminal justice system, and to which policy-makers in other countries should be attentive. Cumulatively, this book conveys the sheer scale of the institutional changes that have taken place in Northern Ireland, and across the individual chapters it is clear how significant an influence the legacy of the conflict exerts on all aspects of the criminal justice system. Within the confines of this review it is hard to capture the breadth of these developments, or to do justice to the insights shed on them by the editors and other contributors to this volume. Overall, though, this is a very impressive collection—wide-ranging, informative, topical and insightful. It will certainly appeal to anyone interested in criminal justice in Northern Ireland but the issues it raises have a resonance far beyond there, and so it will also appeal to academics, researchers, policy-makers and others interested in transitional contexts and in the dynamics of institutional reform more generally. © The Author(s) 2016, 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ISTD). All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Journal of Criminology – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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