Revisiting the Metropolitan Court

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

In September 2001 the report of the independent evaluation of the experimental Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO) in Edinburgh was placed before The Scottish Parliament. The PDSO had opened three years earlier as a pilot scheme in which the salaried model of legal aid provision could be compared to the criminal defence services provided by the private Bar under the legal aid scheme. The comparison was undertaken with reference to four criteria: the quality of services provided; the cost-effectiveness of the different models; client satisfaction; and the wider impact of the different legal aid delivery models on the efficiency of the criminal justice system. The study produced a wealth of detailed information on around 2,600 summary cases (the pilot scheme was limited to the summary courts in Edinburgh) from court files, legal aid records, interviews with key actors throughout the system, and a client satisfaction survey. This rich body of data on case trajectories, legal representation, client satisfaction, case outcomes and sentencing decisions provided a comprehensive insight into the effects of different models of legally aided representation on the processing of summary criminal cases through the courts. However, the study also has the potential to add considerably to our understanding of case processing in general and it is upon this wider application of the PDSO data that this paper will focus. The paper is entitled Revisiting the Metropolitan Court, a reference to some of the classic and still influential literature on the sociology of the court. Key works by Blumberg, Carlen, McBarnet, McConville and others have, to varying degrees, drawn out and shaped the central components of a sociological understanding of the court: the conflict between due process and crime control, negotiated justice, the rarity of the ‘day in court’ and the contested trial, the accused as a ‘dummy player’ in a process made incomprehensible through ritual, performance and technical language. The list could, of course, go on. Certain findings from this recent Scottish study of the summary courts, such as the virtual absence of a real culture of sentence discount for early guilty pleas and the apparent viability of a defence strategy which holds off pleading guilty in the expectation that the prosecution case will collapse, for example, add a number of new themes to explore in relation to the sociology of the courts. Although this paper will not contend that the classic literature needs to be overturned as such, it will begin to outline ways in which the PDSO study may be utilised to add a certain contemporary colour and nuance to key aspects of it. It will also be noted that the PDSO study serves as an illustration of the fact that the peculiarities of individual legal jurisdictions (in this case Scotland) underpins the distinctiveness of the operations its criminal justice institutions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2002

Keywords

  • PDSO
  • sociology of the courts
  • plea negotiation
  • sentencing discount

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