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Police visibility and keeping a grip on petty crime key markers of confidence in justice

03 Dec 2019 / justice Print

Police visibility and petty crime containment boost confidence in justice

A new report tests the temperature of confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Department of Justice and Equality has launched the findings from an international literature review, which it will use to assist policy formation.

The review probes how public confidence in the criminal justice system is measured in different countries, what drives that confidence, and what measures have been deployed to improve it.

The report, by criminology lecturers Prof Claire Hamilton and Dr Lynsey Black of Maynooth University, was launched by the research and data analytics unit in the department today (2 December). 


The report finds that key drivers of confidence are:

  • Effective communication with system users,
  • Trust in the system,
  • How local neighbourhood anti-social behaviour is dealt with,
  • Visibility and engagement with the police,
  • Access to information,
  • Knowledge about the criminal justice system and whether it is perceived as treating people with fairness, dignity and respect,
  • Procedural justice and the significance of personal experience in shaping trust in the criminal justice system.

 The report analyses 168 unique journal articles and 17 government reports, and finds that:

  • Confidence and trust in justice is a multi-dimensional concept,
  • One must differentiate between the dimensions of fairness and effectiveness when dealing with performance,
  • Those dimensions need to be assessed across police, courts, prisons and probation,
  • It is important to differentiate between confidence at local and national level,


It is helpful to measure levels of confidence comparatively – against other public bodies, and

Findings from public-opinion surveys must not be treated uncritically, because of the complexity of the concept.

This is the second body of research commissioned by the research and data-analytics unit in support of the department’s commitment to more evidence-informed policy making.


The report breaks down how confidence in criminal-justice systems is best conceptualised and subsequently put into operation, and draws on both Government-commissioned reports and peer-reviewed studies.

It assesses how public confidence is measured in both national surveys and in the academic literature, and examines trends and patterns in public confidence and trust in the criminal justice system.

Areas covered include:

  • Information on metrics/measures of confidence across numerous jurisdictions,
  • Confidence in policing, prosecution, courts proceedings, probation and prisons,
  • Criminal-justice effectiveness and fairness at both local and national levels,
  • Experiences of crime victims and their impact on confidence,
  • Improving encounters between the justice system and the public (procedural justice), and
  • Restorative justice. 

Department secretary general Aidan O’Driscoll (small picture) said the report reiterates that confidence in the criminal-justice system is a complex and multidimensional concept.

“Professor Hamilton and Dr Black have provided us with an ‘essential learning’ for our approach to improving confidence in the criminal justice system.

“They have highlighted two sets of issues for us; firstly, issues around the administration of the justice system; and, secondly, the need to focus on the fairness of the system.”

Effective communication

“Meaningful contact and effective communication are key. It makes absolute sense that the provision of good-quality information to system users increases confidence.

“People need to see and hear from the system at all stages of their engagement in the processes of justice. If a system user experience is one of having been treated with fairness, dignity and respect, this is a crucial marker as to the impact that contact with the system has on public trust.”


The Department of Justice is currently exploring methods to develop a measure to determine confidence in the criminal-justice system in Ireland.

The report will be published shortly on the department’s website. The previous report is already available.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland