Sentencing trends in Britain: Public knowledge and public opinion
Research on public opinion over the past three decades has consistently established that the British public are critical of sentencers, and that this criticism exists independent of crime trends and even dramatic changes in criminal justice policies.
This finding points to the possibilities that the findings are an artefact of the approach used by these surveys or that public opinion is formed in ignorance of actual practice. The 1996 British Crime Survey (BCS) contained a section of questions designed to test these hypotheses.
Respondents were asked a series of questions about their knowledge of, as well as
attitudes towards, sentencing practice and sentencers. Results indicate that judges
received significantly more negative evaluations than any other group of criminal justice professionals.
The public systematically under-estimate the severity of sentencing patterns, and this is significantly related to attitudes to sentencers. When asked to provide a sentence in a specific case of burglary, members of the public favoured sentences that were on balance little different from, and if anything more lenient than, current sentencing practice. Discussion focuses on the policy implications of these findings, as well as their relation to research in other jurisdictions."
MIKE HOUGH AND JULIAN V. ROBERTS, South Bank University, UK and University of Ottawa, Canada, Punishment and Society, December 2012, 14 (5)