Public confidence in the criminal justice system

For law and order to prevail in a democracy, the public must have confidence in the justice system.

“In  a democracy, the rule of law is not achieved by raw power but by public acceptance of the law and by public confidence in the institutions which promulgate and administer it.”

(Brennan, J. cited by Butler and McFarlane, NSW Sentencing Council 2009 paper on Public Confidence in the NSW Criminal Justice System.)

Excerpts from NSW Sentencing Council 2009 paper on Public Confidence in the NSW Criminal Justice System:

Sufficient trust and confidence in the justice system is needed for:

  • Victims  to report crimes and participate in prosecution process
  • Jurors and witnesses to participate in court proceedings.

The NSW Sentencing Council and the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) recently surveyed NSW residents attitudes to the criminal justice system.  The survey’s findings were that the majority of NSW residents lacked confidence in aspects of the criminal justice system.

  • 66% believe that sentences handed down by courts are too lenient.
  • 62% believe that the criminal justice system does not meet the needs of victims.

The survey also found that people have very little accurate knowledge of crime and the criminal justice system.

  • 98% overestimated the proportion of crime that involves violence or the threat of violence.
  • Misperception of increasing crime rates.  The public were largely unaware that with the exception of fraud and shoplifting, recorded incidents of crime had either declined or remained stable.
  • 73.9% cited the television or radio news as their most influential source of information about the criminal justice system.

There are a number of features of news media coverage that contribute to misperceptions of crime and justice issues, including:

  • Media emphasis on violent crime (“If it bleeds, it leads”)
  • Media emphasis on sentences that appear lenient
  • Coverage of victims who have had bad experiences with the justice system.

Public confidence in NSW criminal justice system 2009


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