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Crime, Justice and Society Seminars

The Crime, Justice and Society seminars are co-hosted by the Criminal Law and Criminology subject areas of Edinburgh Law School, and are a venue for research presentations and discussions on a broad range of topics. 

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The seminar series takes up the remit of the former Centre for Law and Society for socio-legal scholarship. Seminars are open to all, and where possible recordings are available for past events. See event links for registration details or recordings.

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Progressive Penality as Performance

1 November 2023, 16:00 - 17:30 (Hybrid event)

Speaker: Jamie Buchan, Edinburgh Napier University

About the seminar: Scotland's prison population remains stubbornly high despite reforms to sentencing and community penalties (most recently in 2016). Seeking to advance the debate on punishment in Scotland, we use empirical data to support a novel theoretical synthesis of the ‘agonistic framework’ and ‘performative regulation’. We argue that these reforms appear oriented towards decarceration, without substantively engaging with the drivers of imprisonment, and hence exemplify the ‘performative’ nature of much Scottish penal policy. The ‘performance’ is shaped by countervailing political constraints on the Scottish Nationalist government, amid continued debate over independence – but truly progressive penal policy requires radical and substantive responses to the problems that punishment seeks to address.

Gender-motivated crimes: An overview of the challenges faced by criminalizing gender motives

15 November 2023, 16:00 - 17:30 (Hybrid event) 

Speaker: Marianela Delgado, University of Girona 

About the seminar: The term 'gender crimes' presently encompasses a diverse array of offenses associated, directly or indirectly, with matters related to gender. Within this classification of crimes, there exists a distinct category which is delineated based on the acknowledgement of gender's involvement in the commission of criminal acts. More specifically, these crimes are characterized by gender being recognized as the motive behind the perpetration of criminal behavior.

The integration of these particular offenses into criminal law has exhibited considerable variation across different legal jurisdictions. Nevertheless, discernible trends or typical models of criminalization can be identified, often shared among countries that have incorporated these offenses into their legal frameworks. Among the various models employed, the one of primary interest involves the necessity for evidencing two aspects: (1) the occurrence of a criminal act and (2) the motivation for such conduct being based on gender, constituting what is termed the 'gender motive'. This prevailing model is widely adopted across numerous countries, yet it has encountered significant criticism. One of the most pertinent objections questions its effectiveness, primarily due to the inherent challenges associated with proving the specific mental state denoted by the gender motive. While this critique is often broadly articulated, it has garnered some acceptance. Nevertheless, while it is indisputable that the assessment of mental states poses a challenge, it is imperative to expound upon the various levels at which the purported difficulty may become apparent. This exploration is essential to evaluate whether the evidentiary hurdles presented by this model are genuinely insurmountable or, on the contrary, there is room for developing strategies to mitigate the inherent challenges associated with proving certain categories of mental states. Consistent with this, four diverse approaches addressing the complexity of proving gender motives are examined to refine the discussion and, consequently, either contest or provide a clearer defense of the referenced model.

The child as an object of sexual protection in criminal law: What the past can tell us about the present.

29 November 2023, 16:00 - 17:00 (Hybrid event)

Speaker: Rachel Ferguson, Glasgow Caledonian University

About the seminar: In contemporary sexual offences, children below the age of 16 (and in some instances those below 18) are protected because they lack or have deficient sexual autonomy. This position reflects the role of sexual autonomy as the central organising principle for sexual offences in the 21st century. But the scope, nature, and interpretation of sexual autonomy remains subject to wide-ranging and growing debate in criminalisation scholarship. Children’s sexual autonomy is largely absent from these debates and sexual offences against children are typically understood as derivative of sexual offences against adults.  In this presentation, I argue that an appreciation of the scope, function, and objectives of sexual offences against children as they have developed over time can further the critical assessment of sexual offences more generally. To do this, I introduce the changing construction of the child in the criminal law, from the first official recognition of sexual offences against children in the first decades of the 20th century until the present day, and illustrate that the protection of children in the criminal law developed in a manner that was distinguishable from sexual offences against adults until the final decades of the 20th century. I highlight that the mutable category of the child has changed in accordance with ideas about childhood, its relationship to adulthood, and the role of state institutions – including the criminal law. In doing so, I propose that the current protection of children in the criminal law operates to construct and protect the vulnerable sexual autonomy of children and re-inscribes the responsibility of adults to care and protect children. This understanding offers insight into the criminalisation of sexual offences, first by drawing attention to whether and why sexual offences against children appear to operate differently from adult sexual offences and, further, whether increasing similarities between the criminalisation of sexual offences against adults and children, most notably the policy aims to recognise and protect the vulnerable sexual autonomy of adults, can be critically explored through the construction of the child as an object of sexual protection in the present day. 

It came upon you in the dark: Nocturnal governance and American interracial violence 

01 November 2022 at 16:00 (GMT) - Hybrid Event

Speaker: Prof Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, University of Hawaii Mānoa

About the seminar: This talk presents a history of American interracial violence in order to illustrate the ways nocturnal vigilantism has enabled the rights of whites to bear arms, while concomitantly disarming Blacks. The persistent duty of disarmament, which I identify as one of the main functions and meanings of the militia, has frequently operated at night when Blacks have asserted freedom of movement and have thus been identified as dangerous to white interests. The militia is a core republican concern, but I argue that the influential political philosophy of republicanism lacks a theory of the night that could account for this nocturnal vigilantism, which has historically allowed this violence to endure into the contemporary period without adequate critique.

The role of covid-19 and Brexit in changing dynamics in the selection of migrants in detention in Northern Ireland - a call for an abolitionist politics

14 November 2022 at 12:30 (GMT) - Virtual Event

Speaker: Dr Teresa Degenhardt, Queen’s University Belfast

About the seminar: The Covid-19 syndemic led the UK government to introduce changes in immigration detention that greatly affected and impacted those in detention by entrenching pre-existing inequalities among migrants who are detained or subjected to deportation order. This study looks are the critical juncture between Covid-19 and Brexit in the selection of migrants who are still in detention in Northern Ireland, showing who are the populations most likely to be detained before and after the referendum, and before and after the first lockdown. Analysing the statistical data produced by the UK Government, it will be showed how different genders highlight concerns for different racialised populations. Overall, this study shows the ways in which local events, like the emergence of a new border with the European Union, and in particular in Northern Ireland, have an impact on the selection of migrants. The paper is also a call to challenge this kind of politics by the state, through abolitionist practices.


Calculative agency and moral fault: responsibility in market offences 

29 November 2022 at 16:00 (GMT) - Hybrid Event

Speaker: Prof Lindsay Farmer, University of Glasgow

About the seminar: It has often been argued that there is an affinity between the rational calculating economic subject (homo economicus) and the responsible subject of criminal law. On the one hand, the development of criminal responsibility is seen as functional for modern Western capitalism by individualising fault and enabling government through the criminal law, while on the other economic theorists have argued that criminal punishment should be seen as no more than a mechanism for ‘pricing’ certain kinds of conduct. The calculating agent in the market would be no different from the responsible subject deciding whether or not the costs of breaking the law outweighed any potential benefits. If this were the case one might expect that it would be relatively easy to establish liability for market misconduct where the calculating actor and responsible subject come together. However, the question of establishing fault for forms of market misconduct is beset by both theoretical and practical problems. Some of these problems relate to markets (who is responsible if prices rise or fall? What is the role played by ‘market forces’ which encourage the belief that outcomes are not the result of intentional action but caused by hidden or anonymous forces?); others to the kind of organisations that operate in markets (who is responsible for the conduct of a trader or group of traders?); others still to technological innovations, (such as algorithmic trading) which seem to displace individual decision making altogether. There is thus tension between the idea of the rational entrepreneurial subject and the capacity of criminal law to attribute responsibility for any particular outcome. This paper will explore some of these issues to ask how the criminal law can make individuals or organisations responsible for market misconduct.

Isolation in Scottish prisons through a letter-writing project

05 December 2022 at 12:30 (GMT) - Virtual Event

Speaker: Deborah Russo, University of Edinburgh

About the seminar: My PhD focuses on experiences of isolation in Scottish prisons through the qualitative research means of the letter. Why the letter? My PhD journey began in September 2019. By March 2020 the first Covid19 national lockdown had been imposed, resulting in my research plans grinding to a halt due to prison access for researchers being forbidden – at the time – indefinitely. With no other viable options, I had to think creatively of alternative ways to collect my data. The letter came to mind thanks to my previous experience as a prison lawyer for 15 years, when my principal means of communication with clients was by letter. Could this means of communication shift from the professional realm to a research context? This was achieved by way of a correspondence project with 26 participants over a period of 12 months. The letters have so far indicated that the effects of Covid19 on prisoners were (and continue to be) pervasive and affected each individually as well as collectively in different ways. Intimate experiences of isolation were shared by letter which perhaps would not have been so openly shared in interview, changing the dynamic of letter writing to one apt for research on sensitive topics. Alongside a discussion about my choice of research method, as my correspondence project is now drawing to a close, I will also be sharing some preliminary findings

Women's experiences of victim blame from agencies following sexual violence

25 January 2023 at 16:00 (GMT) - Virtual Event

Speaker: Dr Amy Beddows, BABCP Accredited CBT Psychotherapist

Amy recently completed her PhD in women’s experiences of victim blame at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), London Metropolitan University. To explore the topic, she held focus groups with victim-survivors through Rape Crisis centres across England and Wales. She found that experiences of victim blame stretch far beyond blame, and that women are judged, devalued, and dehumanised for reasons other than their victimisation.

Máximo Sozzo, Book Symposium: Prisons, Inmates and Governance in Latin America

8 March 2023 at 15:30 (GMT) - Hybrid Event

Speaker:Dr. Máximo Sozzo is a Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Director of the Crime and Society Program of the National University of Litoral – NUL (Santa Fe, Argentina)

This semester, Edinburgh Law School welcomed Máximo Sozzo from the Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Argentina as a MacCormick Fellow. Maximo is a leading figure in the current movement for a Southern Criminology and works on comparative penal politics in Latin America. Máximo recently published an edited collection, Prisons, Inmates and Governance in Latin America (Palgrave, 2022), which presents a detailed exploration of various prison governance contexts across nine countries in the Latin American region, aiming to contribute to a decolonized dialogue of prison studies between the Global North and South. The event discussed Máximo's work with special contributions from readers highlighting different aspects of the book.

The dominance of suspended prison sentences in post-communist Europe: Causes, consequences and pitfalls

29 March 2023 at 16:00 (GMT) - Virtual Event

Speaker: Dr Jakub Drápal, Principle Investigator, Institute for State and Law Czech Academy of Sciences and Assistant at the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic to judge Kateřina Šimáčková 

Suspension of a prison sentence was originally construed as an exceptional measure to be applied when very short prison sentences were imposed. They have since come to dominate the criminal justice system, affecting two-thirds of offenders in Czechia. In this presentation, data on sentence imposition since 1913 will be presented to document causes of these increases. Gradually, longer prison sentences were enabled to be suspended and became regularly suspended. However, the suspension of ever-longer prison sentences came with a price: sentence inflation, which in turn led to a lower recall rate - empirical evidence will be presented for both of these problems. These issues have resulted in disproportionate and overly-long prison sentences being served. A re-imagination of suspended prison sentences is necessary to remedy this problem. 

Preventing harm: A Zemiology of counter-terrorism

05 April 2023 at 16:00 (BST/GMT+1) - Hybrid Event

Speakers: Dr Francesca Soliman, Napier University & SCCJR Member, and Kajsa Dinesson, The University of Edinburgh

Over the past two decades, counterterrorism in the UK has been characterised by contentious legal and social developments. One such development has been a marked preventative turn in criminal law, exemplified by the bringing into permanence and expansion of controversial “pre-inchoate” offences. Meanwhile, social policies such as PREVENT have raised concerns over the stigmatisation of communities labelled as inherently risky and deserving of scrutiny. These trends have attracted increasing attention from UK criminologists, who have been largely critical of this ever-widening criminalisation. In this paper we suggest that this critique needs to be taken further; guided by recent critiques of crimmigration, we suggest that the framing of terrorism and counterterrorism through a crime lens exceptionalises what is in fact a more mundane form of hybrid legal power, it distracts from the considerable overlap between counterterrorism and migration management, and reinforces the colonial logics used to justify oppressive counterterrorist measures. We consider the ways in which a zemiological framework may be useful in re-framing analysis of counterterrorism away from crime-based approaches.

Power, access, and emotion: negotiating qualitative research in the Scottish penal system

12 April 2023 at 16:00 (GMT) - Hybrid Event

Speakers: Cara Hunter and Robert Holland, University of Edinburgh

Post-devolution, Scotland has been engaged in a ‘nation-building’ project, including a series of attempts to carve out imprisonment’s place within this, and shaping the opportunities and boundaries to prison reform. Academic accounts describe a flurry of penal-policymaking 1999-2007; a political ‘consensus’ over drastically reducing imprisonment post-2007; and various reconfigurations of the prison estate and Scottish Prison Service since. More recently, observers have lamented and questioned the ‘failure’ of this ‘de-carceration’ drive to downsize or radically reshape the prison estate. Using oral-history interviews with key figures in the contemporary imprisonment debate, this project offers an ‘on the ground’ view of: the emergence of this perceived ‘consensus’ over imprisonment; how actors navigated it as a moment of opportunity for change; and how they understand their ‘failures’ or ‘successes’. Interviewees across academia, politics, and the criminal justice system have illuminated a complex picture of this period; shedding light on the hidden strategy, compromise, and conflict that have shaped the last 20 years of imprisonment. The project’s preliminary findings highlight the importance of this kind of oral history, and the complexity of working with penal elites in a highly politicized field.

Private Security and National Security: The Case of Estonia

07 October 2021 at 16:00 (BST / UTC+1)

Speakers: Dr Matthew Light (University of Toronto, Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies) and Dr Anne-Marie Singh (Ryerson University, Department of Criminology)

About the seminar: Most studies of private security postulate exclusively internal, primarily economic, causes of the industry’s growth and regulation. In contrast, based on the case of post-Soviet Estonia, we investigate how a state’s external security environment influences private security. As we demonstrate, Estonia’s tense relations with Russia unleashed several processes through which private security evolved from a lawless industry, to a modest, lightly regulated one: (1) the exclusion of public police from private security, (2) effective measures against organized crime, (3) state-civil society security cooperation, and (4) free-trade policies that permitted western companies to acquire Estonian security firms. Estonia thus clarifies how high politics shapes private security, while also revealing the factors that make the industry relatively uncontentious in most industrialized democracies. 



The Pandora Papers

19 October 2021 at 12:00 (BST / UTC+1)

Speaker: Dr Leopoldo Parada (University of Leeds, School of Law)

About the seminar: Dr Parada will discuss his role in the investigation and analysis of a set of documents relating to the movement of property and money, particularly through offshore companies. The Pandora Papers follow the earlier release of the Panama and Paradise papers. While there are some points at which the most recent release of papers reveal, or suggest, connections with criminal activity, they more often relate to legal ways of transferring assets to avoid taxation or to obscure ownership. The session will allow students to discuss issues arising from this in relation to their own disciplinary backgrounds – legal, criminological and beyond.

Although open to the public, the session has been planned first and foremost for students on LLM and MSc programmes


Special measures for vulnerable witnesses and the right to a fair trial

21 October 2021 at 16:00 (BST / UTC+1)

Speaker: Tom O’Malley (NUI Galway School of Law)

About the seminar: Many countries have by now adopted special measures to assist vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and trial of criminal offences. Particular attention has been paid to the needs of complainants and victims in sexual offence cases. Ireland is no exception in this regard, having provided for such measures in the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 which has been extensively amended in the meantime, especially following the transposition into national law of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive. Moreover, in 2018, the Minister for Justice and Equality appointed an interdepartmental Working Group, chaired by me, to review existing arrangements for vulnerable witnesses and make any appropriate recommendations for further improvements. Our Report was submitted in July 2020. In this seminar, I propose to outline our main recommendations but, rather than becoming preoccupied with the minutiae of Irish criminal procedure, I hope to concentrate on a broader issue, namely, the extent to which it is possible to reconcile an accused person’s right to a fair trial with the provision of special measures for vulnerable witnesses. (Of course, the accused him/herself may be a vulnerable witness). Ireland has a written Constitution which confers extensive rights on persons suspected or accused of criminal offences, This, in turn, means that there are certain limits beyond which the law may not go in terms of tilting the balance more in favour of complainants and victims. However, as we shall see, the Constitution, properly interpreted, still leaves a good deal of room to accommodate the needs of vulnerable persons within the criminal justice system without impermissibly encroaching on the rights of the accused.


Punishing Places: The Geography of Mass Imprisonment

01 November 2021 at 12:30 (GMT / UTC)

Speaker: Dr Jessica T Simes (Boston University, Sociology)


About the seminar: Punishing Places applies a unique spatial analysis to mass incarceration in the United States. It demonstrates that our highest imprisonment rates are now in small cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Simes argues that mass incarceration should be conceptualized as one of the legacies of U.S. racial residential segregation, but that a focus on large cities has diverted vital scholarly and policy attention away from communities affected most by mass incarceration today. This book presents novel measures for estimating the community-level effects of incarceration using spatial, quantitative, and qualitative methods. This analysis has broad and urgent implications for policy reforms aimed at ameliorating the community effects of mass incarceration and promoting alternatives to the carceral system.


MacCormick Fellow Seminar - At the Intersection of Discrediting, Degradation & Denigration: The Criminal Justice System, Coercive Control, Parental Alienation and “Institutional Gaslighting”

22 November 2021 at 12:30 (GMT / UTC)

Speaker: Dr. Frances E. Chapman (Professor of Law, Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada)

About the seminar: In the 1944 film Gaslight, the protagonist deceptively persuades his wife she is descending into insanity. The colloquialism “gaslighting” has entered the criminal legal discourse and is used to describe those who find themselves victims of reality distortions within a coercively controlling intimate relationship. The intersection of domestic violence and “parental alienation” (PA) has confounded researchers because it difficult to determine whether PA is prevalent in dysfunctional family relationships or if the phenomenon is a strategic ploy in legal disputes. Feminist researchers have shown that the abuse suffered by children and the victim parent, usually the mother, has been discredited, dismissed, or greatly minimized by the courts, and the safety of mothers and children are sacrificed in dangerous parenting arrangements that favour the manipulator. Parental alienation does exist but should be reserved for these rare and specific cases. At present, many women find themselves in the terrible position of choosing their safety or risking the safety of their children, and ultimately custody, when parental alienation is alleged. Criminal Law and Family Law judges need to be educated on parental alienation, domestic violence, and mental health interventions to dispel the myth that PA discredits allegations of intimate partner violence. Women are being mislabelled as disordered alienators at the cost of their children. This presentation will look at the history of parental alienation including the contributions of Dr. Richard Gardner who coined the phrase PA, and this session will close with one Canadian and one British case to bring these issues to life. It may not be the abuser but instead the legal structure that is gaslighting women who seek the assistance of the system.


Violent Women. Female incarceration and drug markets in Latin American Prisons

03 Feb 2022 at 16:00 (GMT / UTC)

Speaker:  Professor Gustavo Fondevila (División de Estudios Jurídicos, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Mexico)

About the seminar: In this paper, we examine an understudied topic of female incarceration: violence in women’s prisons. Proportionally, women’s prisons in Latin America register higher levels of particular forms of violence than men’s prisons. As opposed to violence in male facilities where factors such as an individual’s violent past, long sentences, gang membership as well as overcrowding and poor living conditions raise the likelihood of prison violence, in women’s facilities these living conditions are much better, yet violence, proportionally, is reported more frequently. We compare levels of violence used by men and women, and analyze several determinants of victimization of females in prisons. We identify drugs account for the new criminal role of women (growing incarceration associated with their participation in illegal businesses), but they also contribute to the transformation that has occurred inside women’s prisons: the drug-related disputes and riots of recent years in the region.


Adopting and adapting an anti-corruption regime of transnational standards: A case study of anti-corruption reforms in East Timor

This event has been cancelled due to industrial action

Speaker:  Sapna Reheem Shaila (University of Edinburgh School of Law)

About the seminar: Ideas about corruption as a social problem and law as a means to tackle corruption, have travelled to different social settings through international organisations, rule-of-law experts, and legal professional actors. In this seminar, Sapna will discuss her research on international donor-led anticorruption reforms in East Timor and the challenges the internationals and Timorese officials faced in adopting and adapting new legal standards, institutional arrangements, and assuming official roles for tackling corruption. Sapna’s talk will seek to illustrate how policies and practices at the international level influence institutional reforms at the national level, potentially leading to shifts in attitudes and normative behaviours in particular contexts. She will also contextualise the challenges recipient communities that undergo reforms face while adopting and adapting new norms and institutional arrangements. Sapna’s paper seeks to open dialogue and engagement with other scholars and researchers who are interested in examining the limits and possibilities of bringing social changes through law.

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Book Talk –Torture, Humiliate, Kill: Inside the Bosnian Serb Camp System

03 March 2022 at 16:00 (GMT / UTC)

Speaker:  Dr Hikmet Karčić (University of Groningen, Netherlands and Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

About the seminar: Dr Hikmet Karčić's book will be published in March 2022 by University of Michigan Press, and he joins us to talk about it. See the University of Michigan website for full details of the book. Half a century after the Holocaust, on European soil, Bosnian Serbs orchestrated a system of concentration camps where they subjected their Bosniak Muslim and Bosnian Croat neighbours to torture, abuse, and killing. Foreign journalists exposed the horrors of the camps in the summer of 1992, sparking worldwide outrage. This exposure, however, did not stop the mass atrocities. Hikmet Karčić shows that the use of camps and detention facilities has been a ubiquitous practice in countless wars and genocides in order to achieve the wartime objectives of perpetrators. Although camps have been used for different strategic purposes, their essential functions are always the same: to inflict torture and lasting trauma on the victims. Torture, Humiliate, Kill develops the author’s collective traumatization theory, which contends that the concentration camps set up by the Bosnian Serb authorities had the primary purpose of inflicting collective trauma on the non-Serb population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This collective traumatization consisted of excessive use of torture, sexual abuse, humiliation, and killing. The physical and psychological suffering imposed by these methods were seen as a quick and efficient means to establish the Serb “living space.” Karčić argues that this trauma was deliberately intended to deter non-Serbs from ever returning to their pre-war homes. The book centers on multiple examples of experiences at concentration camps in four towns operated by Bosnian Serbs during the war: Prijedor, Bijeljina, Višegrad, and Bileća. Chosen according to their political and geographical position, Karčić demonstrates that these camps were used as tools for the ethno-religious genocidal campaign against non-Serbs. Torture, Humiliate, Kill is a thorough and definitive resource for understanding the function and operation of camps during the Bosnian genocide.


Interrogating war as punishment: punitive logics beyond the state

17 March 2022 - This event has been cancelled.

Speaker:  Dr Teresa Degenhardt (Queen's University Belfast)

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Transcending the boundaries of punishment: On the nature of citizenship deprivation

05 October 2020

Speaker: Milena Tripkovic

About the seminar: A significant number of countries have recently (re)introduced or expanded legal provisions which allow for deprivation of citizenship of persons who have engaged in criminal or crime-like behaviour. The purpose of such provisions is to permanently exclude hitherto full citizens from their political communities, and in this they bear striking similarity to the long-forgotten penal practices of exile and banishment. The paper examines the legal nature of ‘contemporary banishment’ and, by drawing on legal research pertaining to 37 European countries, argues that many of them fail to satisfy fundamental principles of modern punishment, such as legality, imposition by the court, proportionality, individual responsibility, and equality. The implications of this finding for comprehending the legal nature of citizenship deprivation are twofold. On the one hand, citizenship deprivation may be understood as an unjustified form of punishment that could be made legitimate by aligning it with key principles of modern punishment. On the other hand – and more unconventionally – citizenship deprivation may be thought of as a new kind of ‘citizenship sanction’, distinct from punishment and thus normatively unburdened by the need to observe its guiding principles. Such sanctions aim to permanently exclude ‘unworthy’ citizens and correspond to emerging tendencies that emphasize divisiveness which is becoming emblematic of contemporary democracies.



The Rational Myths of the Carceral State

22 October 2020

Speaker: Jonathan Simon, UC Berkeley Law


About the seminar: Institutional sociologists have taught us that the legitimacy of organizations is sustained more by alignment with institutionalized myths in their cultural environment than by their achievement of instrumental goals. The history of criminal justice institutions from the late Medieval era to the early 21st century has institutionalized a series of powerful myths about crime and punishment to varying degrees in legal cultures throughout the world. These myths help explain why criminal justice institutions look so similar around the world, why they are so difficult to abolish despite a history of repetitive failures, and why new punitive campaigns remain relatively easy to mount across the globe regardless of that history. Applying this framework to contemporary debates in the US over “defunding the police”, I suggest that any serious contraction of current penal institutions and practices will be very difficult to achieve despite an unprecedented social movement.



The Scottish jury study

09 November 2020

Speakers: James Chalmers and Fiona Leverick, University of Glasgow


About the seminar: In 2017, the Scottish Government commissioned the largest programme of mock jury research ever carried out in the United Kingdom, examining the effects of the three unique features of the Scottish jury system - the 15-member jury, the not proven verdict and simple majority decision making. That project, which was carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland, ourselves and Vanessa Munro (Warwick) reported in late 2019. In this seminar, we will discuss the methodological choices underpinning the research, the findings, and their implications for ongoing debates about the future of the Scottish jury system and other aspects of the criminal justice process such as the corroboration rule and concerns about jury deliberations in rape cases.


The Construction of Guilt in China

Speaker: Yu Mou
Date: Mon 30 November 2020

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Towards a map of sentencing

01 February 2021

Speaker: Dr Mojca Plesničar, Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law Ljubljana

About the seminar: Scholars have been looking at various facets of sentencing for a long time. Some explore its philosophical and conceptual foundations; others look at its sociological reality; others still at psychological underpinnings of the sentencing process and decision-making more generally. From a legal perspective, we often start with analysing the various systems of structuring sentencing discretion, only occasionally diving into procedural issues as well. Typically, all these layers overlap in practice to produce a final sentencing decision. The various dimensions, however, often remain separated in academic work. I propose that we take a wider look at sentencing and attempt at collating them in one multi-dimensional map that would paint a more comprehensive picture of sentencing.


Rap lyrics in criminal trials: What does the case law tell us?

Mon 22 February 2021

Speaker: Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor of Law, LSE

About the seminar: It has become increasingly common for prosecutors to rely on rap lyrics and videos as evidence of guilt in criminal trials, despite growing concern about the discriminatory nature of this practice. This presentation will explore the current approach to the admissibility and use of rap music in English criminal trials by presenting findings from an analysis of over 30 reported appeal cases. A number of themes emerge from the case law in respect of the nature of the charges and the profile of defendants, including age, ethnicity and location. The case law also shows that rap music is commonly treated as ‘bad character evidence’ to establish gang affiliation and, in turn, liability for an offence. As well as challenging the categorisation of rap music as ‘bad character evidence’, the presentation critiques the way in which questions of relevance and prejudicial effect have been addressed by the courts. In particular, when making admissibility decisions, the courts appear to give little, if any, consideration to the cultural context, artistic conventions or social influences within the rap music genre. These factors affect both the probative value of the evidence and the fairness of its admission. It will be argued that courts should be slow to admit rap music as evidence of guilt, and should not enable prosecutors to rely on stereotypical narratives and racist imagery to construct case theories.


Evangelical wings and inmate participation in prison governance in Latin America 

Thu 11 March 2021

Speaker: Prof Máximo Sozzo, Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Argentina

About the seminar: There is a diverse and complex array of inmate governance in Latin American prisons. In this paper I explore one manifestation of it but try to build some potential general arguments in relation to the debates in the social studies on this theme in the region. In prisons of some provincial jurisdictions in Argentina, the "evangelical wings" as spaces in which only inmates who accept to live according to the religious precepts of evangelism are accepted, have been growing rapidly in the last two decades. This paper is based on field work in a men's prison in which 6 out of 10 wings are evangelical. The paper describes the hierarchy existing among prisoners inside the evangelical wings, in which the "internal pastor" - and indirectly, the "external pastor" - is recognized as the informal, extra-legal authority. It analyzes the various strategies for order maintenance within it, both proactive and reactive, and the roles played in them by the various positions in the prisoner’s hierarchy of the evangelical wing. Special attention is paid to the relationships that are built in this framework with the prison authorities and guards. An interpretation is discussed that conceives the exercise of power by the prisoners who are in the upper echelons of the hierarchy of the evangelical wings as a kind of "outsourcing" by the state authorities. The chapter states that it implies ignoring the series of forces that “from below” and “from the outside” have contributed to the existence and diffusion of the evangelical wings, in a process of “colonization” of the contemporary prison that has to be taken seriously. In turn, it emphasizes the important role of negotiation between state and non-state actors in structuring the forms of governance of this segment of the prison population. It argues that the category of “self-governance”, many times used to think about the roles of prisoners in the production of order in Latin American prisons, is inappropriate to capture this type of development, since it does not take into account the centrality of state action. But it also suggests that the conceptual alternative of "co-governance" may run the risk of emphasizing only the collaboration between the prison authorities and guards and the prisoners who occupy privileged positions in the evangelical wings, losing sight of the quota of competition and conflict that also exists between them, in a fluid and complex dynamic. Finally, the paper advocates in favor of a way of thinking about governmental relations in this type of prison spaces that includes both the collaborative and the conflictive sides between state and non-state actors, a sort of “shared but also contested governance”.


Femicide: pathways for research and mobilization across the world

Thu 25 March 2021

Speaker: Consuelo Corradi

About the seminar: In the last two decades, the notion of femicide has increasingly been used in criminology and the social sciences. It was coined to reveal the sexual politics of the murder of women and over the years it has proven to be strong in raising awareness on this social problem. This lecture will start by presenting the notion today, as well as the context in which the term femicide was first formulated. Next, it will present the impact on the mobilization of women’s movements in different countries and cultural areas of the world, in particular in Mexico and Argentina, Italy and South Korea. Finally, the presentation will analyse problems arising when femicide is applied to empirical research. Today, the most frequent meaning of femicide is killing a woman because she is a woman, emphasising gender and misogyny as the main motive. However, available literature on homicide, family and intimate partner violence offers a more complex picture on why men kill women. The gender interpretation embedded in the activist use of term femicide is powerful towards mobilisation, but it may be imprecise when it is applied to criminological research. In conclusion, the presentation will address some of these empirical problems and how to solve them.

Justice for children who have been involved with organised armed violence in Colombia

4 November 2019

Speaker: Tove Nyberg

Ms Tove Nyberg discussed her qualitative, socio-legal case study on state responses to children who have been involved with local armed organisations in Colombia. The presentation centred around a part of the analysis on definitional paradoxes in relation to armed violence and groups, an expanding transitional justice framework, and drivers of change within the youth justice system.

Tove’s work unpacks the state responses in form of punitive (youth) justice measures and contrasts them with the restorative victim-centred programs that are available for children who have been part of armed groups recognised as parties to armed conflict in Colombia. This is done through an interview study with judicial actors, policy-makers, and experts from international and national organisations complemented with observations and a document analysis.

Police officers’ reasoning about violence in close relationships: An application of Burke's pentad in the analysis of language (and thought)

18 November 2019

Speaker: Jarmo Houtsonen

Dr Houtsonen discussed emerging findings from his research exploring how police officers make sense of violence in close relationships (the Finnish term of law and policy, lähisuhdeväkivalta, which is broadly equivalent to the use of the term domestic violence in Scotland).

Towards a Morally Contextualised Understanding of Respect for Persons in the Criminal Law

11 December 2019

Speaker: Louise Kennefick

Dr Louise Kennefick’s research aims to shed light on how our current criminal law structures, which are intended and assumed to communicate respect for the subject, are based on a moral philosophical concept deriving from the Enlightenment, with a focus on respect as a means of agency recognition and rational choice. It highlights the contingent nature of respect, and the fact that the present reading of the concept not only falls short of its own moral philosophical ideal, but is inherently problematic in terms of the practical consequences for the person before the law.

Louise discussed how the backend of the criminal justice system is tasked with attempting to rebuild respect in the relationship between the offender and community, and argued for a change in how our present structures of guilt and responsibility attribution are constructed in order to accommodate a fuller notion of respect at an earlier point in the criminal justice journey. The overall aim of the research, then, is to reposition the concept of respect so that it is more fully acknowledged in terms of its significance as a symbolic placeholder, a mode of moral communication, an experience of community morals, and a basic human emotion.

Illegal Drugs and Public Corruption: Crack Based Evidence from California

20 January 2020

Speaker: Babak Jahanshahi

It has been suggested that the arrival of crack cocaine to the United States in the 1980s was responsible for the significant increase in drug related deaths and crime rates in low income and inner-city neighbourhoods, but can drug markets initiate a vicious cycle that results in more institutionalized corruption and thus pose a further important problem for society?

Dr Babak Jahanshahi discussed and introduced the synthetic control method (SCM) which according to Athey and Imbens (2017) is the most important innovation in the policy evaluation literature over the last 15 years. He showed how he and colleagues applied SCM to estimate the causal effect of drug markets on public corruption in California.

The mutable defendant: from penitent to rights-bearing and beyond

3 February 2020

Speaker: Rachel Gimson

Contemporary criminal justice is premised on a rights-bearing defendant safe-guarded from arbitrary state punishment by due process. The paucity of academic commentary on the role of the criminal defendant suggests that there is a common assumption that the role is static. However, the rights-bearing defendant is a relatively new concept. Through a legal history analysis, Dr Rachel Gimson demonstratesd that the defendant’s role can mutate in response to pressures placed on the criminal trial. Broadly, there have been three conceptualisations of the defendant; the penitent Anglo-Norman defendant, the advocate defendant of the jury trial, and the rights-bearing adversarial defendant. Importantly, the shift from one conceptualisation to another has occurred gradually and often without commentary or conscious effort to instigate change. There are many contemporary pressures that could be impacting on the rights-bearing defendant. The concept of a mutable defendant provides a new theory through which to analyse these pressures.

This seminar considered the introduction of adverse inferences regarding the right to silence and disclosure, and the rise of ‘digilantism’. These new pressures, it is suggested, help to facilitate a rhetoric of deservingness that goes against the rights-bearing defendant and raises the risk its role could once again be mutating.