A Letter from the BSC Postgraduate Committee
1st July 2016
So here we are. The UK has decided and voted out. We are part of a generation that has never known a Britain not part of the European Union. This is unprecedented change, unsettling times.
Our job as criminology postgraduates is research; learning, challenge, discovery. And there is certainly much to learn about the process and outcome of the EU referendum.
These are uncertain times. But let’s be clear. To all postgraduate students of criminology, whoever you are, wherever you are from, however you voted – the postgraduate committee is your space, your community. Our focus remains inspirational criminological scholarship, and we will continue to support, encourage and celebrate the very best of postgraduate research.
A selection of criminology postgraduate students share their opinions of the implications of the Brexit vote on criminal justice in the UK.
Dominic Willmott, Doctoral Student from the University of Huddersfield, searches for optimism beyond the EU referendum and offers a researchers guide to the impact of leaving the EU on Criminal Justice in England.
Despite voting to remain amid fears of what leaving might mean for the national security of this country and the possibility of tarnished relationships with other EU states in the event of such threats, I can’t help but search for any positives for our criminal justice system. Is there anything that may actually lead to change for the better I ask myself? Maybe greater internal governance may make for more favourable human rights laws akin to UK value systems. Maybe the redistribution of EU financial contributions may provide a greater source of money to ensure more police officers on the street or order within overcrowded prisons. Maybe a refocusing of efforts and resources locally will actually mean the research advancements we postgraduate researchers make surrounding our criminal justice issues will begin to be noticed. Optimistic though it may seem, perhaps the change our research argues for and scientifically evidences may start to become a reality. Implemented in ways that lead to not only greater social justice but a fairer due process where treatment of those accused, convicted, released and even victimised is higher up the political agenda. Without the benefit of hindsight these ‘maybe’s’ are perhaps nothing more than just that. A list of possibilities in a sea of uncertainty. One thing that is however certain, is the need now more than ever for home grown scientific research surrounding how our criminal justice processes will cope with such monumental changes to the future of our country. They wanted a Brexit – they got it – now we as a community of researchers must raise to the challenge of sustaining UK independence and growth.
Teaching fellow Susie Atherton from Keele University questions what will happen to the reinvestment in justice following the result of the EU referendum.
In 2010, the cross party House of Commons Justice Committee (HOCJC) recommended a re-investment in justice to tackle high re-offending rates, mis-informed perceptions of community sentences and the complexity of the criminal justice system, with competing goals and priorities. Since then, new approaches in problem solving and restorative justice have been embraced, celebrated and then disregarded in favour of a new way to ‘transform rehabilitation.’ Whilst these reforms have been widely criticised, from with the conservative government and beyond, they have occurred alongside cuts in public spending, shifting the priorities of many police services away from neighbourhood policing, and a sense of the criminal justice system returning to its function to punish, deter and symbolise the authority of the law. The HoCJC recommend ‘pre-habilitation’ as a more ‘prudent, rational, effective and humane use of resources’ (2010:6), which also needed a greater commitment to tackling social exclusion, disadvantage, substance misuse and investing more in education and mental health services.
But, today 52% of the UK voted to leave the EU, and if we do indeed continue with this, the call for re-investment in justice and public services, already being overridden by austerity measures, could be ignored once again. There is another lost opportunity, in what we can and should learn from our European neighbours who manage their justice system without overcrowding and increasing levels of violence in prisons, and who are able to demonstrate significantly lower re-offending rates. Today, we can only say at best the status quo will continue, at worst, staff, prisoners, victims and citizens will be at further risk from a system simply unable to cope with the pressure, let alone offering anything meaningful to take place in reforming offenders, repairing harms and keeping communities safe.
PhD student Anita de Klerk from the University of Salford discusses the role of the media in the rising levels of violence since the EU referendum.
Since the EU referendum there have been a shocking number of incidences of violent, hateful ‘anti-immigrant’ crimes and stories being told in both the media and on social media networks. Reports have detailed how British citizens, and non-British citizens alike, have been told to go back from where they came from based on the colour of their skin or ancestral decent. The Brexit campaign was labelled as a “campaign of hate” by Sadiq Khan during the final televised debate before the referendum, but it is not Brexit that has created the platform from which the racists and xenophobes are now expressing their vile positions. The racists and the xenophobes existed long before the debate even started. It is the printed media that have given rise to the hate fuelled attacks on people and it is they who need to take responsibility and repair the damage they have caused.
No matter what side of the debate you were on, you cannot argue against the fact that both sides only offered uncertainty and misinformation and the media ran with whatever line they could to sell their papers. So far have the printed press fallen from the reality of what is acceptable and responsible to inciting violence to the point that now even murder is tolerable. In Dan Hodges’ column in the Daily Mail on Sunday the headline reads “Labour MUST Kill vampire Jezza”.
Nobody expects a member of the Labour or Conservative Party to take this seriously and organise to assassinate Jeremy Corbyn. However, there are lone ‘would be attackers’ who may just see this as an opportunity or believe that this is their duty. Ideologically motivated attacks are not new and are on the rise. It is not even 5 years ago that Anders Breivik murdered 77 people in Norway in support of fascism. Since then there have been numerous attacks throughout the ‘civilised’ West, the last of which was the Orlando Massacre where Omar Mateen opened fire and killed 49 people and injured many more, just over two weeks ago.
We need to start recognising and talking about the rise in ideologically motivated attacks by capitalism’s disaffected; individuals who are estranged from society by various capitalist channels like racism, Islamophobia, class and every other form of discrimination who turn to revenge their disaffection on those around them. Their revenge is then justified by the ideology that offers promises of an alternative to their disaffection. Our heritage under capitalism is poverty, suffering, racism, homophobia and disaffection, etc. We choose the ideology that best offers us hope, regardless of how ridiculous or hurtful it may seem to the next person. Murder is not a solution it is a crime as is hate inspired violence. It is time to investigate the inciters of violence and hold them accountable.
Gabriella Simak, PhD candidate from Bangor University, considers the impact on human rights in the context of criminal justice.
First, the UK will no longer be bound by the European Commission of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Human Rights Act 1998 was based on the European Convention of Human Rights and enshrined basic human rights and freedoms such as the right to life. So the question then becomes: will the HRA be repealed completely? Technically then, the death penalty could be brought back as a form of punishment as the UK has no other legislation which protects people’s right to life and fundamental freedoms that the ECHR protects.
The UK will no longer be signatory of any of the EU treaties upon a full exit from the EU, which means the UK will not have the right to issue a European Arrest Warrant, which means the UK will not be able to request extradition of offenders from EU member states. As for minors, EU member states will no longer be able to refuse the extradition of minors to the UK under the Mandatory Grounds for Refusal and the UK will not be able to request extradition of minors from EU member states, as England and Wales (10) and Scotland (8) have the lowest age of criminal responsibility in the EU.
Finally, the UK will no longer have to protection and benefits of the Europol, which means it will no longer benefit from joint law enforcement services, combating terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of women and children, cybercrime and organised crime, including sharing of intelligence and evidence Article 88 of The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. As well, UK nationals will no longer be able to take their cases to the European Court of Justice, which oversees and regulates the legality of the acts of the EU member states.
Masters Student Madeleine Hughes, University of Kent, also reflects upon the impact leaving the European Union will have upon human rights legislation, appealing for humanity in political decision-making.
As I attempt to make sense of the countries decision to leave the European Union I cannot help but reflect on the impact that ‘Brexit’ will have on our human rights. Will our exit from the EU result in the Conservatives pressing ahead with their plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and to introduce their UK Bill of Rights? And if they do what impact will this have on the rights of our prisoner population?
My research focuses on problems faced by our imprisoned population, so I am keenly aware that prisoners’ rights are not a subject that elicits sympathy. It appears to me that, in some part, the impetus for many to leave the EU is borne from a desire to prevent rights being given to those who are deemed to be ‘undeserving’ and to protest against perceived dictates from the European Court of Human Rights. Human Rights are often seen as something that only benefits ‘others’; an argument postulated by the Leave campaign when claiming that the UK is inundated with foreign criminals who are ‘protected under EU human rights laws’ . But those who denounce human rights in this way are missing the point, for them to be human rights they must apply to all citizens not just those deemed worthy of them.
For Winston Churchill, ‘…the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country’. I would implore the politicians before they repeal the Human Rights Act to consider these words, because by failing to consider the rights of all of our citizens, including those who are imprisoned, politicians endanger the rights of us all.
Finally, PhD Candidate Adam Westall from Manchester Metropolitan University, appeals for us to ‘just do right’ – reminding us that, during times of change and uncertainty, it is the way we treat each other on a day to day basis that promotes security and social justice.
‘Great’ Britain, as we are officially titled is not looking so ‘great’ at the moment. In the immediate aftermath following the decision to leave the EU, we appear to be more divided and less ‘great’ than we have ever been. We are split politically in terms of our political parties being at war with each other, without (in my opinion any of them being able to run the country), we are divided in terms of class with significant differences in opinion between the less wealthy communities and those in the ‘middle and upper’ classes; and we are divided geographically with Scotland and Northern Ireland expressing wishes to leave the not so ‘United’ Kingdom.
So what does this mean for our security and maybe our safety? Nationally and politically only time will tell, but individually, well the answer to this question lies in the streets and towns of the United Kingdom, it starts with us and our communities. Over the next few years there will be change, both good and bad. There may be racism and hurt along with lies and mistruths, which will affect how secure we feel. There may also be bias and upset towards politicians, political parties or even our neighbours. There doesn’t have to be. This after all should never have just been about law making, immigration or the NHS. Let us use this opportunity to look at things a bit different. Start by doing right, saying hello or helping each other out a little, don’t let what happens on the world stage affect what happens on our streets. This starts in the street, driving the car or popping to the shops, this is what matters. We do not need to be a divided Britain despite leaving ‘the club’, we just need to simply ‘do right’ by each other.