Evaluating the Criminal Justice System

2 Dec


To be fair, the criminal justice system must be accessible to all members of society, with everyone being able to defend themselves and ensure that justice is done. The accessibility of the criminal justice system is dependent on its cost, time and knowledge. Unfortunately, criminal trials are usually expensive, lengthy and require expert knowledge of the criminal justice system and its procedures. Dietrich v The Queen [1992] HCA 57 established that a fair trial is difficult for most without legal representation, and Legal Aid exists to help those in greatest financial need to afford representation. The limited resources of the criminal justice system means that cases often take a long time to come to trial; a full trial is can often require that the defendant wait months or years while they are left in uncertainty. This is of particular concern when the accused is held in remand, as it is very real possibility that he is being incarcerated for an extended period despite not being guilty of the crime he is alleged to have committed.

Community Values

Society shows respect for the law if it adheres to the standards the community expects of it. As a result, certain questions arise: does the law accurately reflect community values? Does the law develop to meet the ever-changing standards of the community? Do those who make the law have a good understanding of the beliefs held in the community? To what extent should the law enforce the community’s beliefs? Does this extend to public morality or merely to standards of safety, property rights, freedom, and so on? The power of the community to determine the membership of legislative bodies is a direct means by which they influence the law.


If the nature of an offence makes it an impracticable or unreasonable task to detect the crime being committed or determine the perpetrator, the value of the law is diminished to the point where it is of little or no consequence. The question of how laws are enforced is also important to consider. Offensive language is frequently employed by many members of society, however some claim that laws relating to offensive language are selectively enforced in order to intimidate young people.

Protection of Rights

The law must simultaneously protect the rights of society as a whole and ensure that the rights of individuals are not compromised as a result. In some cases, the desire of police to convict somebody for the sake of society has led to their individual rights being contravened. It is also important that the rights of the victim are balanced with the rights of the accused.


It is said that everyone is equal before the law, however the extent to which an affluent person can better defend themselves than a poor one may be one example of inequality. Plea bargaining is a feature of the criminal justice system that many see as a contributing factor to inequality; a defendant that enters into a plea bargain will be treated very differently to a defendant who does not receive this opportunity, even if all other factors are equal.

Appeals and Review

Those convicted of a crime are entitled to apply for an appeal of the decision. In an appeal he would claim either that an error of law was made in reaching a decision or that the punishment given was too severe. The grounds for appeal are therefore exceptionally narrow and this may mean that some cases – such as the Lindy Chamberlain case – cannot be appealed and therefore remain poorly resolved.

Resource Efficiency

The criminal justice system is expensive and the fact that many reported crimes are never resolved by the police has led many to question its efficiency. Metrics such as clearance rate, conviction rate and recidivism can be used to evaluate the resource efficiency of the criminal justice system.


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