In July and August 2011, three deliberative research workshops were held with members of the public in Scotland: one each in Ayr, Livingston and Aberdeen. This was part of a wider evaluation to explore the impact of Summary Justice Reforms (SJR) on victims and witnesses, as well as to gauge public perceptions of the summary justice system, and the reforms overall. This report focuses specifically on participant’s understanding, perceptions and expectations of the Summary Criminal Justice System in Scotland; how people view justice per se; and what could be done to improve or maximise public confidence in the system.
The research found that there was limited and often inaccurate knowledge of the criminal justice system in Scotland among participants in this research. Participants did, however, want to know more about the system and there was a desire for fewer barriers to information, including the removal of jargon in the system, to make it more accessible.
Participants wanted to see greater respect for victims and witnesses in the system, including better treatment at court and the receipt of case progress information at all stages of the justice process. The public court experience was perceived to be intimidating and not easy to understand, and this was compounded by perceptions that professionals working within the court system (including defence and prosecution agents) were unsympathetic to how daunting the experience may be for members of the public. Participants perceived the current system to treat the accused better than victims and witnesses, and believed that the court and prison system was not taken seriously by some offenders.
Views on sentencing were complex. Community sentences and community payback were generally well supported by all participants as a means of delivering ‘visible justice’, which directly benefited those affected by the crimes. Views on custodial sentences were more varied with views expressed that while prison sentences needed to be imposed in a fair and consistent manner, they also needed to be sufficiently tough that offenders would be deterred from committing further crimes.
Restoring and improving social values of respect for justice and authority overall was seen as a key underlying challenge to improving public confidence in the future. There was no suggestion, however, that responsibility for this should necessarily sit with the justice system.