Priti Patel

Priti Patel

Source: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

Justice on Trial: Radical Solutions for a System at Breaking Point

Chris Daw QC

£16.99, Bloomsbury

★★★★★

Crime, along with the debate about justice in wider society, never goes away. Recent events, such as the killing of PC Andrew Harper, the nationwide spike in knife crime, and Priti Patel’s (pictured) announcement that levels of shoplifting had fallen during the period the UK spent in lockdown (when most of the country’s shops were closed), have made sure of this.

Like home secretaries before her, Patel has vowed to ‘get tough’ on crime, adding that she wants the criminals of today to ‘feel terror’. However, in Justice on Trial, Chris Daw QC seeks to challenge what he views as the cliche of ‘getting tough on crime’ with a more innovative, radical approach to criminal justice reform.

It is fair to say that Daw has had a remarkable career. He is a near 30-year veteran of the bar, specialising in serious crime, advising on cases involving murder, complex fraud and drug trafficking. He took silk in 2013.

Justice on Trial proffers a compelling alternative to the ‘lock them up for longer’ approach to criminals, focusing on three hotly debated areas of British justice. These areas are: prisons, treating children as criminals, and, in my opinion, the most interesting – drugs. Daw has no time for the government’s approach to incarceration, denouncing it as having no regard for empirical evidence or consequences. Instead, he favours a drastic overhaul of the prison system, with the aim of making incarceration the exception in sentencing, not (as it increasingly is) the norm.

Rather than repeating well-intentioned, but often meaningless, platitudes about the ‘urgent need for reform’, Daw looks to other jurisdictions, such as Switzerland and the Nordic countries, for innovative solutions to the various ills of our criminal justice system. For example, Daw lauds the success of Switzerland’s ‘safe consumption rooms’ for drugs. He also cites what he views as poor examples of criminal justice, such as Alabama’s prisons system, which is the subject of a particularly gripping passage. His detailed, first-hand accounts of visits to Alabama’s prisons, the offices of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and England and Wales’ courtrooms make the book’s anecdotes so much more personal.

Justice on Trial’s policy recommendations, as well as being pragmatic (like Daw’s anecdotes), focus on the individuals involved, which is what he argues criminal justice should do above all else.

Each chapter’s analysis is also accompanied by fascinating historical facts about the justice system. This historical context also goes a huge way to showing how far justice has (and in most instances, has not) evolved to serve modern society.

The book is rounded off with a captivating epilogue on internet crime, which is uncharted territory for many books of this genre.

If the UK wants to tackle its criminal justice problems, then this book should be mandatory reading for cabinet ministers and concerned citizens alike.

Craig Laverty is a trainee solicitor at Eversheds Sutherland