Festival seeks positive vision for UK’s crisis-ridden justice system

The future of the UK’s justice system is the focus of a special series of events at York Festival of Ideas featuring an array of experts from the justice system, prisons, policy-making, policing and parole systems.

A combination of understaffing, the sell-off of Court buildings, cuts to Legal Aid, dwindling public confidence in the police, an inexorable rise in the prison population and high rates of re-offending are just some of the challenges the justice system faces.

A Festival Focus – Reimagining Our Criminal Justice System – will feature a day of discussion and analysis organised by the Festival in partnership with The Morrell Centre for Legal and Political Philosophy. Panels of experts will discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding the criminal justice system and suggest ways to reform it to make it work for all, including exploring how other nations run their criminal justice systems.

The day will feature panel discussions on the multiple challenges facing the justice system and the areas needing urgent reform, how improving levels of public trust in the police are crucial as the policing role evolves and the effectiveness of our prison system in comparison with other methods of dealing with offenders.

The events, starting at 11am on 11 June in the Ron Cooke Hub, Campus East, University of York, will feature contributions from experts including former prison governor, author and criminal justice consultant Professor John Podmore; barristers Johanna Hardy-Susskind and Dr Sam Fowles; His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell, and author Angela Kirwin. 

The Director of the Morrell Centre for Legal and Political Philosophy, Professor Matt Matravers said: “Over the last decade or more the UK justice system has faced increasing stresses across a range of areas.  The Centre’s collaboration with the York Festival of Ideas will enable our high-calibre panels of experts to explain the nature of the challenges the justice system faces. They will discuss potential pathways to reform to make the system work reasonably, equitably and consistently for all.”

Festival Director, Joan Concannon, added: “York Festival of Ideas has never shied away from searching analysis of some of the most challenging issues facing society. We are enormously grateful to the Morrell Centre for Legal and Political Philosophy for working with us to assemble such a distinguished group of speakers to reimagine with our audiences new ways to deal with the many complex challenges that confront our justice system.”

Tickets, and further information, is available at: https://yorkfestivalofideas.com/2023/festival-focus/criminal-justice/.

The Festival Focus will feature three panel discussions:

Criminal Justice: The state of the nation

The UK criminal justice system is in crisis. Understaffing, the sell-off of Court buildings, cuts to Legal Aid and a rising prison population are among the most pressing issues. A panel of experts  including former prison governor, author and criminal justice consultant Professor John Podmore, Senior Research Fellow in Law at All Souls College, Oxford, Professor Lucia Zedner and barrister Johanna Hardy Susskind will survey the state of the system and discuss which areas are in most urgent need of reform.

Rebuilding: Policing and public trust

The policing model in the UK relies on the public’s consent and trust not only on the police’s competence in tackling crime and maintaining public order, but also on how the public perceive that they are treated. New changes to police powers, judicial procedures and offender rehabilitation as well as the involvement of the police in a perceived curtailment of the right to protest has raised concerns about the relationship between the public and law enforcement.  Policing has become more complex and officers have been drawn into greater involvement in dealing with vulnerable people. Our panel of experts including author and barrister, Sam Fowles; Professor Ben Bradford, of the Department of Security and Crime Science at UCL, and Dr Justice Tankebe, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, will discuss ways in which we can rebuild trust in the police.

Reimagining Punishment: Do prisons work?

England, Scotland and Wales have the highest per capita incarceration rate in Western Europe. A substantial proportion of prisoners report having mental health difficulties, a learning disability or difficulty while one in four prisoners grew up in the care system. Compared with white people, Black and Asian people are more than 50 per cent more likely to be sentenced to prison in the crown court.  Around 44 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted of another offence within one year of release. Our panel including author Angela Kirwin;  His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell and Professor Charlie Lloyd and Dr Geoff Page of the ESRC Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre at the University of York compare and contrast the UK prison system with other approaches and alternative real-life examples, asking: do prisons work?