What is a criminal justice system? Essentially, it is a state mechanism designed to deliver justice, deter crime, and punish offenders within a sovereign territory. This is achieved through the establishment of laws, processes, law enforcement agencies, and court systems. There is no ‘perfect’ criminal justice model, and every country in the world has its own variation.
From left to right, HM Prisons Isis, Belmarsh and Thameside in Thamesmead West, London. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Like criminal justice systems in other free societies, UK’s system consists of five fundamental elements, which are:
Law enforcement in UK is handled by three layers of law enforcement agencies.
These agencies receive reports of crimes committed within their jurisdiction, and depending on their level of authority, investigate, gather evidence and arrest the offenders.
The government, instead of victims, provides the manpower and infrastructure to prosecute offenders in court, after reviewing evidence provided by law enforcement agencies. In England and Wales, for instance, prosecution is handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Every person accused of a crime have the right to retain counsel. If they cannot afford it, the court will assign a counsel to represent them pro bono or help to pay their fees. In 2013, legal aid spending peaked at £220 million involving 6,500 defendants.
The courts operate independently of the executive and legislative branch, and thus, are expected to deliver judgements without fear or favour. In UK, the court system is divided into three geographic regions (Courts of England and Wales, Courts of Scotland, and Courts of Northern Ireland), which are under the purview of the Supreme Court.
The least known element of the criminal justice system is corrections, which are responsible for supervising imprisoned criminals. Corrections also play a secondary role in a criminal justice system – it acts as deterrence for potential offenders.
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