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Book Review: ‘Human Rights and the Criminal Justice System’

IraRyk-Lakhman14 October 2016

Review: Anthony Amatrudo and Leslie William Blake, Human Rights and the Criminal Justice System Routledge, 2015, pp 182, GBP 90, ISBN:  978-0415688918

By Samantha Morgan –Williams (PhD Candidate & Academic Assistant at the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, University College Cork).

This volume addresses the grounding of criminal justice systems within a human rights based focus. The book is authored by academic lawyer, Leslie William Blake and criminologist Anthony Amatrudo. The authors assert that current criminal justice systems must consider the implications of legislation through the lens of human rights discourse. This is a statement which is both true and exceptionally timely post-Brexit vote, with a renewed political focus on human rights in the United Kingdom and growing support for the Conservatives’ plans to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998. The influence of such political posturing has created a Teufelskreis whereby the public view of human rights is at an all-time-low. This vicious circle brought about an increase in negative attitudes, which, in turn, has been coined by some as a ‘monstering of human rights.’

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Although human rights are increasingly considered to be a thorn in the political power’s side, it is unquestionable that the flip side of this is that the public’s awareness of human rights is at an all-time high. The increasingly negative views of human rights by the British public have been attributed directly to negative media representation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or the ‘Convention’, and ECtHR respectively). The book is thus, part of a wider consideration of the increasing role and significance of human rights within international governance and global justice. The title is not intended to break new ground, but instead seeks to explore the effects of these new human rights implications upon the criminal justice system in a number of identified areas. These include: gender, terrorism, transnationalism, prisoner rights, new order ‘issues’ such as kettling and existing legal structures and court practices. An examination of these is warranted and necessary, as according to the authors, ‘human rights have eclipsed the rhetoric of religion in contemporary moral discussion’ (p 1).

The book commences with Chapter 1: ‘Human Rights and the Criminal Justice System,’ a rather broad title which blurs the content of this chapter somewhat, citing the works of Manuel Lopez-Ray, Stanley Cohen, and Lucia Zedner in order to show three paradigm treatments of human rights within academic Criminology. The aim here is seemingly to throw light on contemporary theory and practise (p1-2). However, for a book intended for use by both students and academics interested in this area, the explanation of each of the aforementioned is arguably a little thin in order to be of benefit to the former intended readership.

Chapter 2, ‘ECHR and contemporary human rights thinking’, provides a solid background to studies on the Convention and its application in contemporary criminology, focusing largely on its roots in order to better understand its placement within contemporary criminal justice systems. Indeed, the authors raise some interesting points regarding the Convention’s current position in the UK political mind-set recognising on-going plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights” (p23). This approach leads well into Chapter 3, ‘Human rights in British and European Law,’ where the authors address the basis of the Common Law and explain the key differences between Scots law and British law (pp 38-46). Despite the title’s focus, the authors also provide analysis of both Commonwealth (p 51) and US systems of rights (pp 43-5) in this chapter, which lends important comparative insight to this section.

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Chapter 4, ‘Recent court cases and their principles’, highlights the core principles of recent court cases concerning police powers, surveillance, and the collection of data. This chapter offers an interesting read for anyone concerned with the right to protest (p 52), or other topical issues such as the ‘kettling’ of children (pp 57-8). Blake also explores the case law concerning proliferating police powers of surveillance and the collection of data (pp 54-6). The examined cases such as Castle & Ors v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis are subject to in-depth and thorough analysis (pp 58-61). Particularly noteworthy here is Blake’s treatise of the case of Brian Haw, known for his one-man demonstration in Parliament Square – who argued that retrospective criminal legislation breaches both the Common Law and Article 7 & 10 of the ECHR (pp 60-4). As such, the text provides a solid analysis of recent jurisprudence in this emerging area, and excellent consideration of the key principles in these cases. However, the success of this analysis is marred slightly by the fact that this book has no section dedicated to such cases, as is characteristic of a legal text. Instead, the cases referenced throughout the text are included in the index. While this could be owing to the book’s intention to straddle both the criminological and legal genres, this oversight does somewhat detract from this book’s potential to be used, as intended (and explicitly outlined by the authors on the back cover), as an accessible reference point for both undergraduate and postgraduate students and lawyers.

 

The subsequent Chapters continue to address interesting and highly topical issues for both law and criminology, such as race and gender (Chapter 5), victims and victimology (Chapter 6), terrorism (Chapter 7) transnationalism (Chapter 8) and prisoner’ rights (Chapter 9). Each of these provides a solid grounding in the key issues, and a well thought-out insight into the juxtapositioning of human rights norms and protections against the aims of the criminal justice system. However, in some of these sections, the line of enquiry is marred by the selectivity of the authors’ exploration of the topic in question. For example, in Chapter 9, The Rights of Prisoners, the recent prisoner disenfranchisement debate in the UK is skimmed over in just a page. It is suggested that Amatrudo and Blake, therefore, may have missed an excellent opportunity here to highlight the conflict between international human rights obligations and domestic criminal justice systems, which is characterised by the heated and acutely topical prisoner voting debates. Especially as the prisoner disenfranchisement debate has been so prevalent within the anti-human rights rhetoric in the United Kingdom both within the criminal justice system and further afield.

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Regarding the focus on human rights, the depth of such exploration varies throughout the book and most notably between the two contributing authors. Throughout the text, and in an arguably timely stance, Blake consistently makes clear in his contributions that the Human Rights Act 1998, and its incorporation of the ECHR into domestic law, has achieved a great deal. To support his contention Blake emphasises, in particular, the role of the Act in protecting UK citizens from abuses by the State. Amatrudo, however, is less convinced of this, and generally takes a much broader view of the scope of human rights throughout his contributions. This difference in stance towards human rights makes itself clear throughout the text, and ultimately it is not hard to discern from both subject matter and tone of the book’s chapters which contributions were made by which author.

Notwithstanding this, the book largely contributes understanding to an area of proliferating importance. Yet, somewhat ironically, the structure of the work serves to undermine the book’s usefulness as an academic reference for students. As in focusing on ‘key’ topics, the book’s analysis is, by its very nature and essence, limited to these selected topics. Further, as the work itself is structured around these issues with nine chapters dedicated to each of these topics, the book reads almost like an anthology or collection of essays as opposed to a stand-alone work. Although the book does include a conclusion by the authors, it is lacking a foreword or even an introduction which could have eased accessibility for the reader and which would have simultaneously provided insight into why these exact nine topics were chosen for discussion, at the expense of other perhaps more relevant topics. The omission of such an introduction largely detracts from what is a well-written book with excellent case law analysis and some interesting lines of thought, and instead renders the text somewhat inaccessible as a reference point for students.

To summarise, while this book contributes to an increasingly important area of scholarship, namely the intersection of criminology and human rights, there are a few areas which undermine this book’s scope to contribute at the intended level to such debate. The contribution possesses the potential of offering an encompassing compilation on the topic for those with no prior knowledge. Yet, the treatment of the ‘key’ topics can seem rather piecemeal and as a title, this contribution therefore seems more suited to those with a good level of pre-existing knowledge in either criminal justice or human rights.