Irish Independent

Dr Mary Ro­gan: We have a rare win­dow to re­form jus­tice sys­tem

- Dr Mary Ro­gan Mary Ro­gan is As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor in Law at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin Society · Discrimination · Justice · Criminal Justice · Social Issues · Human Rights · Law · Crime · Ireland · European Union · National Collegiate Athletic Association · Incarceration Rate

POLIC­ING is rarely out of the head­lines in Ire­land at present. In the day-to­day anal­y­sis of re­ports of mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of crimes and re­sponses to whistle­blow­ers, it is easy to miss the changes in the broader land­scape of crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­i­cy­mak­ing against which these events are tak­ing place.

The Com­mis­sion on the Fu­ture of Polic­ing in Ire­land was set up last year with the for­mi­da­ble task of en­gag­ing in an all-en­com­pass­ing re­view of how polic­ing op­er­ates in Ire­land, and is to re­port by Septem­ber of this year. Its es­tab­lish­ment fol­lows an al­most in­ces­sant out­pour­ing of con­cerns about as­pects of po­lice prac­tice here and its work is hap­pen­ing at a time of un­prece­dented re­flec­tion on how crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­icy is formed in Ire­land.

Polic­ing and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem gen­er­ally need a pol­i­cy­mak­ing frame­work which is ro­bust, re­silient and which al­lows for best prac­tice to be dis­cerned and to be im­ple­mented. That pol­i­cy­mak­ing en­vi­ron­ment is shaped largely by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Equal­ity and its his­tory.

Dur­ing the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Ire­land was in re­ceipt of some funds un­der the Mar­shall Plan – an Amer­i­can ini­tia­tive to aid Western Europe. Each Gov­ern­ment depart­ment was obliged to give an an­nual ac­count of its ac­tiv­i­ties. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice, as with the other de­part­ments, pro­duced its re­port each year. Year on year, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, then a re­mark­ably small sec­tion of Gov­ern­ment, and a deeply cau­tious place, re­ported back in the fol­low­ing terms: “No ac­tiv­i­ties wor­thy of note.”

In 1952, the then-sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice wrote: “Our ac­tiv­i­ties, im­por­tant though they may be, have no pop­u­lar ap­peal. All things con­sid­ered, I think the less said about our plans the bet­ter.”

The re­mit of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Equal­ity has un­doubt­edly been trans­formed since those days. A pro­foundly in­flu­en­tial fac­tor on the ethos and ap­proach of the Depart­ment has been the Trou­bles. This in­flu­ence goes right back to our In­de­pen­dence, but in­ten­si­fied in the 1970s. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice be­came a very in­su­lar place, wary of out­siders, re­luc­tant to en­gage with in­ter­ested ob­servers, view­ing all through the lenses of sus­pi­cion and sub­ver­sion. This has led to a cer­tain dom­i­nance of polic­ing con­cerns and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween polic­ing and the depart­ment, as well as a long­stand­ing in­su­lar­ity in its out­look.

An­other salient fea­ture of the pol­i­cy­mak­ing land­scape is a lack of en­gage­ment with data and re­search. We have also of­ten been re­ac­tive rather than proac­tive in re­spond­ing to the chal­lenges we face in crim­i­nal jus­tice.

We ex­panded our prison ca­pac­ity dra­mat­i­cally, for ex­am­ple, dur­ing the 1990s with­out do­ing any pro­jec­tions or mod­el­ling about what the re­quired ca­pac­ity was, or what the driv­ers be­hind that in­creas­ing prison pop­u­la­tion might be. Not as­crib­ing im­por­tance to ac­cu­rate data may go some way to ex­plain­ing the con­cerns we are see­ing now about how crimes are be­ing clas­si­fied and recorded.

Crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­i­cy­mak­ing, within which our ap­proach to polic­ing has been shaped, has been char­ac­terised by three key fea­tures over the last five decades: in­su­lar­ity and a se­cu­rity mind­set; a re­ac­tive rather than proac­tive style of plan­ning; and a less than op­ti­mal use of re­search and ev­i­dence. These tenets are, how­ever, com­ing un­der in­creas­ing, and over­due, scru­tiny and pres­sure in the re­cent past.

One of the early ex­am­ples of a change came in the form of a re­view group set up to ex­am­ine pe­nal pol­icy in 2012.

The Pe­nal Pol­icy Re­view Group made 43 sep­a­rate rec­om­men­da­tions about the treat­ment of vic­tims of crime, the need to un­der­stand crime as a so­cial pol­icy and health is­sue, as well as a jus­tice one, and other ar­eas. Per­haps most cru­cially, the group called for a “new pe­nal pol­icy”.

The Re­view Group strongly en­cour­aged the cre­ation of a bet­ter pol­i­cy­mak­ing land­scape. It noted that “the ex­pe­ri­ence of many ju­ris­dic­tions is that pe­nal pol­icy is best cre­ated in an en­vi­ron­ment which pri­ori­tises in­ter-agency co­op­er­a­tion, is based on ev­i­dence, in­volves ap­pro­pri­ate de­lib­er­a­tion and the in­put of ex­perts, which is con­ducted in a re­spon­si­ble and mea­sured way, and which keeps the long-term pur­poses of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in its fo­cus”.

This ex­hor­ta­tion ap­plies to polic­ing and its place within the broader crim­i­nal jus­tice net­work.

That call by the Pe­nal Pol­icy Re­view Group rep­re­sents a new and dif­fer­ent think­ing about how crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­i­cy­mak­ing should work here.

It is part of a net­work of re­lated calls – from the Toland Re­port on the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Equal­ity which found both a widen­ing re­mit, and a cul­ture of se­crecy to have per­me­ated out of se­cu­rity and polic­ing is­sues into other as­pects of the depart­ment’s work – to the re­views of polic­ing con­ducted by the Garda In­spec­torate, to the de­vel­op­ment of the first ever strate­gic plans for the Prison and Pro­ba­tion Ser­vices.

All of these de­vel­op­ments in­di­cate that we are in a rare pol­icy win­dow, which al­lows us to step back from the rush and pres­sure of the ur­gent, the now, and to ask what it is we want from our crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­icy, and what struc­tures do we need to get it.

There is a lot in what these re­ports tell us that we are not happy to see, and which give us cause for pro­found con­cern.

What is en­cour­ag­ing, how­ever, is a new de­sire to take a long-term and strate­gic look at our crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­icy and prac­tice, more pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, and an ef­fort to im­prove how we col­lect and use data and ev­i­dence. There is also a turn to­wards cre­at­ing proper struc­tures for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of rec­om­mended changes.

An Im­ple­men­ta­tion Over­sight Group, which I chair, was set up in 2014 and re­ports to the Jus­tice and Equal­ity Min­is­ter ev­ery six months on the progress in im­ple­ment­ing the Pe­nal Pol­icy Re­view Group. Its re­ports are made pub­lic.

We have also re­cently seen the es­tab­lish­ment of a cross-sec­toral group to con­sider rec­om­men­da­tions on how to tackle child abuse, which re­ports to the Cab­i­net quar­terly.

It is only through tack­ling the way in which pol­icy is made that will we see real change in how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem op­er­ates in Ire­land. We need to see the bet­ter use of good qual­ity data and in­for­ma­tion to in­form what we do, more work­ing be­tween agen­cies and with out­side bod­ies, and more open­ness to out­side scru­tiny. Per­haps, most im­por­tantly, we need to en­sure that this pe­riod of change re­sults in con­crete re­forms, which re­quires ro­bust and pub­licly ac­count­able im­ple­men­ta­tion plans. The days of dusty re­ports on lonely de­part­men­tal shelves must come to an end.

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 ??  ?? Cel­e­bra­tion time af­ter the pass­ing out cer­e­mony at Garda Col­lege,Tem­ple­more. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cel­e­bra­tion time af­ter the pass­ing out cer­e­mony at Garda Col­lege,Tem­ple­more. Photo: Steve Humphreys
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