LawTeacher logo
LawTeacher The law essay professionals
0115 966 7966 Today's Opening Times 10:30 - 17:00 (BST)

This essay has been submitted by a law student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Punishing the guilty protecting the innocent

“Criminal Justice Systems Need To Strike A Balance Between Punishing The Guilty And Protecting The Innocent.”

“The purpose of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is to deliver justice for all, by convicting and punishing the guilty and helping them to stop offending, while protecting the innocent. It is responsible for detecting crime and bringing it to justice; and carrying out the orders of court, such as collecting fines, and supervising community and custodial punishment”.

For many years the criminal justice system (CJS) has come under severe scrutiny and widespread debate particularly from the media and the public, the extreme lack of confidence within the system, often being the pick of the bunch. Despite the above statement made by the Criminal Justice System many doubts are raised over whether or not the CJS helps defend the innocent or punish the guilty. The majority of the public often hear, read and in many cases see dangerous, sexual, violent or other serious offences being carried out yet we still have no answer who these offenders are or why they are still on the streets and have not been punished. This public uncertainty often raises the question whether the justice system is distant, unaccountable and unanswerable.

According to the British Crime Survey (BSC) (crime in England and Wales 2001/2002) who estimated there was just a little over “13, million crimes which took place in 2001”. Although these figures do sound alarming one must first understand that crimes are not necessarily crimes until they are proven in the court of law which means many would agree that 13, million offences have taken place. However on the other hand it can be said that the British Crime Survey estimated 13, million crimes which is still a staggering amount, but from a more functional point of view how many criminal acts have taken place and have not been recorded which in many eyes would paint an even frightening image effectively raising an issue of trust between the public and the criminal justice system.

In order to assess this question thoroughly we must understand and carefully identify the meaning of justice as a whole, only then can we afford to strike the balance between the criminal and the victim.

Justice is in many cases is identified as the power to interpret the balance between right and wrong. If one uses a encyclopaedia for definition, justice is illustrated as “The existence of a proper balance: a fair trial, which, among other things, achieves a proper balance between the ability of the defendant to establish innocence and the ability of the prosecution to establish guilt” (encyclopaedia website)

As the beginning of the essay stated, the role of the CJS is to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. We will now attempt to discover how and through what process these two contrasting ideas are balanced.

The prison population stands at, 82, 000 according to the Policy Green Paper made available in March by the Conservative Party, titled `Prisons with a purpose'. (Prisons with a purpose, pg17) Again, referring back to the `Prisons with a purpose' article above, states that Over 18,000 prisoners have been released early since June 2007, which had resulted in 300 crimes, containing at least one murder being committed by offenders who should have been in prison. This assumes that all criminals, including those that committed violent crimes, are being given the opportunity for early release. However, the information from the Ministry of Justice shows that early releases from custody is provided for prisoners serving between 4 weeks and 4 years for the final 18 days of their sentence subject to meeting of strict criteria's and providing a release address. (Ministry of Justice, pg. 3) Thus early release is only provided to those nearing the end of their term doing short prison sentence. In spite of the conservative rationale, criminals who have committed violent crimes, sexual offenders, prisoners who have escaped from custody and other would not be allowed for early release. Having said this, one must bear in mind those prisoners being released early might have not been rehabilitated properly to be returned out back into the community.

Having heard the aforementioned, many will still argue with the fact that the CJS favours criminals, as it sets out their rights, rather than notifying the victim of how procedures are going and what actions have taken place to bring the defendant to justice. This is emphasised by a report created by the Government's crime and justice adviser Louise Casey who estimated that only 24% of people feel they are properly informed about what happens to people convicted of crimes in their local area.

The idea of mistrust is often the umbrella term used for the miscarriage of justice on any particular party whether it's convicting an innocent person or releasing a guilty person. Street violence, drunken yobs and knife wielding gangs although these are not new crimes on the streets of many communities they are of many that constantly ignite the fuel of questions concerning crime. Why are these and many more crimes constantly occurring and what measures are government taking in order to protect the innocent and carry out justice?

The whole idea of the criminal justice system if we are looking at the quote above from the CJS website many would argue is that it is there to protect the innocent by punishing the guilty. Therefore, meaning, each agency must liaise accordingly with the same ambitions and expectations, the police must work with the crown prosecution service and others must do similarly. Having said this many cases have often been abandoned due to insufficient evidence or lack of witness, effectively meaning the criminal justice system themselves perverting the cause of justice and failing to protect the public.

In 1993 a black teenager named Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a white gang in what many noted as a racially incited murder attack that lead to one of the most important inquiries in the history of the justice system. This enquiry known as the Macpherson report was led by Sir William Macpherson. This reports conclusion was damning of the British legal system and the way it handled cases, particularly that of the Steven Lawrence murder and other ethnic minority cases. The report, published in 1999 identified fundamental operational failures within the police force and more worryingly institutional racism within the workforce (Slapper & Kelly, English legal system, pg.386).

Similarly but more recently the public was informed of a published government report which identified that the public are entitled to know who offenders are and what actions are being taken against them in order to insure public certainty within the criminal justice system. When question by the public Gordon brown decided to hold a meet with victims of crime to discuss what steps to take in protecting the innocent. The outcome was somewhat disturbing as the majority of them concluding to the idea of naming and shamming offenders instead of chasing possible suspicions who often end up being scapegoats for in most case police.

Despite Crime being lower than previous years, more officers patrolling the streets than ever before and respectively the number of people in prison have doubling does not answer why 73 % of the public believe that this respects the rights of criminal and only 33% believing that it looks after the needs of the innocent.

The crown prosecution service is not so historical in its creation, as it came about from the prosecution of offences act 1985(POA 1985) (Gillespie, The English Legal System, pg.282) and became initial in 1986. Before this the police had the powers to act as both the investigator of a crime and the prosecutors of a crime.

According to section 37 of the Police and Criminal Act 1984 (Gillespie, The English Legal System, pg.289), when someone is being investigated by the police after an arrest, the police may take one of four actions.

“Options number one is to release the suspect without charge an on bail thus enabling the Criminal Prosecution Service to decide whether to prosecute. Second option is to release the suspect on bail but not for the purpose of the CPS to decide whether to prosecute (i.e. to allow additional investigation to be made. The third option is to release the suspect without charge and without bail. Finally the fourth option is to charge the offender”.

Most importantly to many the idea of diversion after arrest and rehabilitation is often the focal point in the question to whether the “criminal justice system finds it difficult to strike the balance between punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent”

  • Simple caution these are a number of offenses including disbursal orders,

  • Conditional cautions many would refers to these as community sentences but having heard a simple caution these are cautions which have enough evidence, the prosecutor is satisfied with the evidence and the offender has admitted that he has committed.

  • The Final warnings and reprimands under the ss 65-66 crime and disorder at 1998(CDA 1998) defined for juveniles under the age of 18

  • Community service whether or not this can help is often questionable highlighting a offender with bright clothes can cause a rebellious act

  • Restorative justice, does this help the victim, or lessen the sentence for prisoners does a victim want to go through more sorrow again this often raises the main methods used by the criminal justice system

On several occasions a person has wrongfully been arrested or stopped and searched on the ground of suspicion and surely if the cps was not created the number of defendants in court would have been far higher than what it is particularly on the grounds of “Prima facia” which has often sparked constant disputes between the police and the public's perception of them

Prima facia is based on the idea “that in any given arrest, is there enough evidence that can possibly make the specific case at least arguable” (The Criminal Process pg.148) Castorina V chief constable of surrey (1988),

Regardless what has been said above the UK justice system is very much adored by many around the world and often imitated widely. This, however, does not excuse the fact that crime has risen constantly and the justice system has not followed, the laws have not adapted and many believe that the British public still have a criminal justice system that finds it difficult to highlight the balance between punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent.

This is highlighted by cases such as the Norfolk farmer (Tony Martin) who shot a teenage boy as he tried to burgle his isolated farmhouse. The farmer was charged with murder and given three life sentences. (The Guardian Apr-2000).

According to a statement put forward by the Home Office in July 2006 which reiterate the importance of the public in aspects to justice “We need to rebalance the system in a way that gives the law-abiding public much greater involvement in the criminal justice services they receive. That starts with ensuring the needs of victims must be at the heart of what the criminal justice system does.” (Home Office 2006 pg4).

To summarise, the criminal justice system is as Winston Churchill said “...not the best system we have but it's our system”


-Andrew Ashworth, Mike Redmayne, The Criminal Process, OUP Oxford; 3 edition, 14 April 2005.

-Conservative Party, Policy Green Paper, “Prisons with a Purpose: Our Sentencing and Rehabilitation Revolution to Break the Cycle Of Crime.”, March 2008, pg. Pg1 -113.

-Alisdair Gillespie, The English Legal System, OUP Oxford, 1 edition, 29 Mar 2007.

-Home Office, Rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of the law-abiding majority Cutting crime, reducing reoffending and protecting the public, July 2006, pg1-52.

-Ministry of Justice, End of Custody Licence releases and recalls 1 to 29 February 2008:

England and Wales, February 2008, pg. 1-7.

-Jon Simmons and colleagues, British Crime Survey, “Crime in England and Wales: 2001/2002”, July 2002, pg 1- 199.

-Gary Slapper, David Kelly, The English Legal System, Routledge-Cavendish, 9th edition, 1 Jun 2008.


-, visited on the 03/01/2010

-, visited on the 18/12/2009

-By Robert Verkaik, The Independent, “its better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted”, Saturday, 27 September 2008,

-, visited on the 03/01/2010

-Audrey Gillan, The Guardian, “Life for farmer who shot burglar”, Thursday 20 April 2000., visited on the 30/12/2009

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the Law Teacher website then please click on the link below to request removal:

More from Law Teacher

We Write Bespoke Law Essays!
Find Out More