Criminal justice system is a phrase used to express the interdependent components of the courts, police, and correctional facilities in the government. The term also describes the criminal justice agencies found within states in a federal government. As a whole the criminal justice system is thus made up of the three aforementioned interdependent components. Law-making has often been added by some as the forth criminal justice component, since all legitimate activity of the criminal justice system emanates from the law (Fuller, 2005). The understanding of this is important because if the process of criminal justice is unfair, a portion of the unfairness will for sure stem from the criminal law.
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The substantive law aspect reflects the “what” of the statute, in that laws are established to define certain behaviour as crime, and thus give punishment to those who violate the law (Bohm & Walker, 2007). However in the recent times there have been calls for an overhaul of the criminal justice system. This stems from the diminishing public confidence in the system that has been accused of unfairness and inequity in performing its mandate. Hence a review of the criminal justice system is aimed at improving it to be fair, firm but compassionate, and colour-blind truly
Fair and Effectiveness
The effectiveness of the law can be evaluated based on the access and equality of the law, its enforceability, resource efficiency, protection of individual rights, and a means to establish a balance between the rights of the society and individuals. To act effectively, the criminal justice system must render equal treatment to everyone, regardless of their income, education, age, social status or ethnicity. If it is discovered that an individual has been discriminate against, then the criminal justice system is deemed to have failed if its task. Equality before should have effective adaptations in order to suit the changing values and attitudes of the society and individuals (Karmen, 2009). Another factor that can determine whether or not the criminal justice system is effective is delays in the system. Criminal justice often takes too long before finalizing cases. Years elapse between the date when the crime was committed, and the time when the offender is sentenced. Such delays in the criminal justice system can result in the victim suffering from continuous trauma because of the offender not being punished. Delay can also result in witnesses forgetting important information that is relevant to the case in question.
A fair and effective criminal justice should not be expensive to mete upon everyone. The criminal justice system can be very costly. Numerous citizens cannot afford legal representation. In some cases courts have recognized the necessity for adequate legal representation. Hence attempts to redress inequalities of accessing the legal system have been done through Legal Aid. This offers cheap legal representation to individuals on a limited income. Nonetheless, not everyone is provided with the legal aid. In order for people to qualify for legal aid, they need to pass a test asserting their assets or level of income, and a merit test where matters are serious enough with a likelihood of winning (Fuller, 2005). In view of all this issues, the criminal justice system cannot be said to be wholly effective and fair.
The Rule of Law
Doubts have of late arisen on whether the criminal justice system abides by the principle of the rule of law. Arguments have been laid that misconceptions regarding criminal trails, and the power vested in organized crime, is the source of the degradation and corruption in the criminal justice system. This implies that the system is not performing on the principle of rule of law. Rather than serve the society by protecting the victims and convicting the guilty, the criminal justice system is dominated by indifferent court staff and judges, wily defence lawyers and defendants who bully witnesses. Hence the public confidence in the criminal justice system has been eroding with time. Another problem forming the opposite view stems from wrongful convictions. In Australia, a spate of wrongful convictions has resulted in certain jurisdictions sending their judges to undertake courses in avoiding wrongful convictions (Fairchild & Dammer, 2000). Factors like overconfident eyewitnesses and bogus prosecution experts have been identified among the causes of misrepresented justice. There is also the aspect of lying jailhouse informants who invent confession frequently. Inept lawyers and overzealous prosecutors often jeopardize the accused right to trial. Another factor in wrongful convictions is the tendency especially in high profile cases, of the police, press and public figures seeking publicity, convicting the accused prior to trial.
Comments on whether the criminal justice system stands by rule of law have been plentiful in debate. Some have suggested that the best approach to cut crime is social action, so that the criminal justice issue never comes up, because there are no crimes committed. An excellent example of that approach is through job creation. Of course the problem is that organized and disorganized or random crime will not be affected by the creation of jobs. Gangs that terrorize neighbourhoods have never been impressed by make-work and flower planting programs. Therefore the issue of the criminal justice system is not fully addressed. Crimes will continue to happen and the criminal justice system will still experience the problems therein
One objective of the criminal justice system is to reduce crime. There is no doubt that a broad consensus is present that the basic structure of the criminal justice system should remain as a predominant feature in administering criminal justice in Australia. However a range of complementary or alternative approaches can also be utilized within the same framework. Crime reduction can be achieved via reactive means. This includes response to a call for service, arresting, obtaining a criminal conviction, and serving the sentence imposed by the court (Karmen, 2009). The criminal justice system can also employ proactive means like eliminating conditions that result in criminality. The former method of reducing crime is referred to as crime control, and accurately portrays the majority of criminal justice activity in Australia. The latter form of crime reduction is called crime prevention and is less emphasized in most countries.
The quality goal of a criminal justice system that dominantly counts as its strength is doing justice. Doing justice has two related implications both of which are reflected in the blindfolded lady justice, Justitia, who holds a sword and scales and adorns several legal building and courthouses across the nation. It is thought that the sword represents the first meaning of justice, whose aim is to hold the guilty responsible for the harms and damages inflicted by them. If an offender is not penalized by his wrongdoings, then justice has not been achieved and therefore the criminal justice system has in itself failed (Reichel, 2004). This form of justice is termed corrective justice as is the case with punishment or corrections. The blindfold and scales are thought to represent fairness, which is the second meaning of justice. Such conception of justice assumes that every individual will be equally treated in the eyes of the law. That justice will be blind to income, social standing, and colour among other inequities in society. Hence justice would be absent in cases where any group is somehow singled out or left for differential treatment by the law. This form of justice is called procedural justice.
The strength of the current criminal justice system draws stems from the way it incorporates both corrective justice and procedural justice. The procedures of the court call for every suspect to be considered innocent until proven guilty by an impartial court of law. Thus the system allows the offender to be subjected to a fair trial that should be devoid of unfair advantage or external interference. The necessary evidence is gathered and witnesses availed prior to the commencement of the trial. This ensures that cases are handled with due diligence, and that the victims or offenders are not disadvantaged by any hurried move by the court. In addition, judgment in the court is passed based on the collected facts or evidence, not on the whims of public opinion or emotions in the courtroom (Kappeler, & Potter, 2004). Hence correctional justice ensures that both parties in a disputed are satisfied with the outcome of the case, since it incorporates a high degree of fairness.
The role of procedural justice is to guarantee parties that the trial is free of just. The various components of the criminal justice system in the name of the name of the police, court and correction process, each plays its part. This ensures the provision of a fair process of arrest, hearing, and the correction procedure. Proponents of justice as an outcome seek to make the Australian criminal justice more punitive. This is aimed at achieving vengeance for victims of crime and retribution for society. Research shows that efforts like increased incarceration, long average sentences and more executions over the past years, have eroded the procedures that make the Australian criminal justice process fair.
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Wrongful convictions have seriously dominated the weakness of the criminal justice system. When individuals sit wrongly convicted for several years, major miscarriages of justice does occur. It is in such acts that innocent are convicted and the guilty are set free. Public opinion has also been counted among factors that have influenced the operations of the system (Crow & Johnson, 2008). The courts are faced with a difficult balance to accomplish. While they are not controlled by public sentiment, the courts should also not lose the confidence of the population.
A curious reluctance exists, especially among lawyers, in submitting the conceptual underpinnings of the criminal justice system to close examination or empirical information on its functioning. The establishment of a dichotomy between the legal and moral rights of the victims of crime and accused persons has always been a false venture. Most annalists make reference to the way politicians conduct media campaigns on law and order, and play or prey on the fears of the populace, for political gain. Hence politicians also employ this tactics in intimidating the fair outcome of a trial that they may be party or interested. The judge is threatened behind the scenes to make certain lines of action besides the rampant corruption present. The fairness and justice that is supposed to be exercised by the criminal justice system to make it effective, has been affected negatively by political interference (Beckett & Sasson, 2003).
The public often despair of the oversimplification of issues of criminal justice in the popular media. The press with its popularity just like politics is in nature adversarial. The media thrives on the conflicts established by the dichotomies. Thus it depicts itself as the arena where the conflict between good and evil is constructed righteously in the minds of men. Most conflicts highlighted by the media have been reframed in the public discussion of the same issues. Thus the media has in certain occasions influenced the outcome of a court decision. Nevertheless, it would be preferable if this were created other than via reiteration or iteration. Some scholars have argued that the criminal justice system lacks clear objectives and is devoid of uniformity. Essentially it is deficiency of the features of a system. Hence it is assumed sometimes that the public appears to be more punitive than what the current criminal justice system is.
Among the weakness of the current criminal justice system emanate from the delays in conducting trials. Offenders spend several years in remand before their cases are handled. This does not assist the victim either, because there is continuous suffering of trauma as the criminal is being unpunished. Witness also end up losing vital information relevant to the case since it takes long from the time crime is committed to the period the is finally heard. The issue of bail over remand has also eroded public confidence in the system. The society has been living in fear as dangerous criminals are bailed out to come and carry out revenge after being arrested and on release. This has been taken in certain quarters as a form of lenience that encourages criminals to continue terrorizing the society. Judges have also accused of passing lenient sentences to convicted criminals (Pizzi, 2000). Such weaknesses in the criminal justice system has worked in degrading and diminishing the performance of this establishment in eyes of the public, which it is mandated to serve fairly and effectively.
The Current Criminal Justice System
With regard to the preceding discussions, the current criminal justice system faces the litmus test of being fair and effective. An examination of the law-making process and law makers in Australia reveals some important facts for understanding the processes of criminal justice. Law makers at both state and federal government are disproportionately white, male, and more than twenty years older than an average Australian. There is a lot of money involved in the political and criminal justice system. The current system is accused of bias based on gender, color and social status among other parameters. The issue of how white collar crime is handled under the system has been a source of heightened concern. The system has ignored the most harmful act against Australians, deeming it unfair as the perpetrators are not held accountable (Lab, 2007). Logically criminal justice activity would be unfair because police, courts and corrections carry out criminal law. Thus the criminal justice process does not achieve desert, as a key component of fairness if the law is applied discriminately.
There are cases where the police, courts and corrections enforce unfair law unintentionally, the term innocent bias is applied. Innocent bias to exist does not require dishonest court staff, bad police officers, or unethical correctional personnel. The fact is that even if all employees of the justice system were fair, just, equitable, unbiased, impartial, objective and dispassionate, the Australian criminal justice process would be unjust still due to innocent bias (Reichel, 2004). This is the most significant and dangerous form of unfairness, with widespread effects that cannot be rooted out easily, unlike most apparent forms like corruption, police brutality, bribery, and prosecutorial misconduct among others. Hence the criminal justice system as it stands currently cannot be assumed to be fair and effective. It should be understood that after the apparent threats to unfairness have been identified and dealt with, the issue of innocent bias will still remain to hound the effectiveness and fairness of the system.
It is important to acknowledge that the opinion of the public generally suggests citizen agreement with criminal law. The acts recognized in law as serious crimes are still those that the populace tends to think are most serious. Because the police probe alleged crimes and are the primary point of entry for cases in the criminal justice system, innocent bias established in the criminal law in perpetuated in the activities of law enforcement. Therefore the disparities in the system such as based on race, class, gender can be minimized, but not dealt with permanently. The idea on innocent bias will always be interpreted by either side to soothe their line of argument in accusing criminal law. Hence for the system to be fair and effective, a remedy for innocent bias ought to be invented if possible.
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