Criminal Judges

Criminal Judges

Legitimacy, Courts and State-Induced Guilty Pleas in Britain

Mike McConville and Luke Marsh

Against a backdrop of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, the authors bring an avalanche of legal and empirical material to question the legitimacy of the relationship between judges, lawyers, politicians and defendants in modern Britain. Examining existing legal structures and court practices through the lens of what used to be called ‘plea bargaining’ the authors provide a graphic picture of why case disposals through enforced guilty pleas promote injustice, feed discrimination and skew the judicial function. This is the most comprehensive examination to date of case disposition methods in England, Wales and Scotland., underpinned by a new socio-legal theory on the criminal process. Criminal Judges is sure to provoke debate on the forces which drive the criminal justice process and will therefore be of great interest to all those concerned about the future of criminal justice policies and practices. It will appeal to academics, researchers, policy advisors and practitioners of criminal law.

Chapter 3: State-induced guilty pleas and legitimacy

Mike McConville and Luke Marsh

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice


In the rhetoric of the common law, the adversarial system placed the burden of proof on the State to be discharged without the compelled assistance of the accused. A guilty plea - which was deemed to be an admission of each and every element of the offence charged enabling a court to move directly to sentencing - had attached to it formal conditions which paid tribute to the trial model: it had to be unequivocal, free from duress and personal to the defendant. These conditions were also necessary because an appeal against conviction in such circumstances was practically ruled out. Although guilty pleas have always been allowed at common law, placing institutional pressures on defendants to plead guilty has to be reconciled with these formal conditions.

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