The University of Southampton
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LAWS3128 Politics and the Criminal Law

Module Overview

What is the relationship between politics and the criminal law? What does it mean to analyse ‘politically’ the activity of criminal law and sentencing policymakers? How are criminal laws made? What does it mean to describe the judiciary as ‘political actors’? These questions are central to ‘Politics and the Criminal Law’. This module considers key concepts in political science and policymaking studies and explores the political processes which impact upon the criminal law. The module will provide you with an introduction to key concepts and debates within political analysis and policy-making studies. With this grounding in place, the module will explore the relationship between politics and the criminal law by reference to important and topical cases studies, which may include: • the politics of the law-making process; • the relationship between political ideologies and the criminal law; • the politics of the judiciary. This module will conclude by considering what it would mean to ‘depoliticize’ criminal law and sentencing policy and whether this is indeed a desirable goal. No prior study of politics is required. Teaching will be informed by Dr Annison’s published and ongoing research.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• to provide a critical understanding of key concepts in political science and policymaking studies; • to consider the implications of applying these concepts to key processes in criminal law and sentencing policy; • to explore topical and relevant case studies and thereby to shed light on criminal law and sentencing as a political process; • to encourage the consideration of different positions as regards the appropriate relationship between politics, the criminal law and sentencing policy.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Key concepts in political science and their relevance to the criminal law;
  • Key concepts in policymaking studies and their relevance to the criminal law;
  • The broader significance of relevant case studies such as ‘the politics of the policymaking process’ and ‘the politics of the judiciary’;
  • Different views on the appropriateness of ‘depoliticizing’ the criminal law and sentencing policy.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Construct arguments clearly and coherently both in writing and orally through seminar discussion;
  • Critically evaluate the utility of political science and policymaking concepts;
  • Describe and critically assess the relationship between political processes and the criminal law;
  • Evaluate different perspectives on the ‘problem’ of the ‘politicization’ of criminal law and sentencing policy;
  • Demonstrate independence of mind in presentation and defence of arguments, both in writing and orally.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Locate and analyse relevant legal, political and other primary and secondary source materials;
  • Distinguish relevant from irrelevant materials;
  • critically evaluate others’ arguments;
  • Think critically, develop coherent arguments both orally and in writing, communicate arguments to a group of peers and defend your position under challenge;
  • Manage your time effectively.

Syllabus

Politics and policymaking processes have a crucial and constant effect upon the criminal law and sentencing policy. You may have encountered fleeting talk of a particular case being ‘political’, or a specific piece of legislation being the result of ‘politicization’. But what do these terms mean, and why are they relevant to students of the law? This module places these issues centre stage. It provides an introduction to key concepts in political science and policymaking studies. The module draws on these concepts to explore the relationship between politics and the criminal law by reference to important and topical cases studies, which may include: • the politics of the law-making process; • the relationship between political ideologies and the criminal law; • the politics of the judiciary. Having surveyed these concepts and various case studies, this module will conclude by considering what it would mean to ‘depoliticize’ criminal law and sentencing policy and whether this is indeed a desirable goal. The precise content of the module will be influenced by Dr Annison’s ongoing research in relevant areas and topical developments of the day. The following is an indicative list of module content: • Key concepts in political science – power, structure, agency and ideas; • Key concepts in policymaking – policy windows, agenda-setting, and the problem/political/policy streams; • Political ideologies and the criminal law – ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ and payment by results; • The politics of the law-making process – ‘Willed ordinariness’ and ‘Westminster traditions;’ • Pressure groups and the policymaking process – the fall of the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence; • The politics of sentencing – the development of sentencing guidelines; • The politics of the judiciary – responses to the prisons crisis; • Towards a depoliticization of criminal law and sentencing

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught by way of weekly 2-hour seminars. Student participation is central to the module. Students will be encouraged to actively engage with relevant concepts and issues by way of discussion groups, presentations, debates and case studies. Students will be encouraged to develop their own perspectives on module topics and will be provided with opportunities to discuss, defend and refine their position through the semester. Learning activities include directed reading; independent research; preparing for and writing formative coursework; reflection on that process; preparing for and writing summative coursework; preparation and delivery of oral presentations; class discussion.

TypeHours
Seminar20
Preparation for scheduled sessions70
Completion of assessment task50
Wider reading or practice10
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Barton and Johns (2013). The Policy-making process in the Criminal Justice System. 

Zander (2004). The Law-making process. 

Griffith (1997). The Politics of the Judiciary. 

Lacey (2008). The Prisoners’ Dilemma. 

Hay (2002). Political Analysis. 

Bevir and Rhodes (2003). Interpreting British Governance. 

Kingdon (2011). Agendas, alternatives and Public Policy. 

Loader and Sparks (2012). Public Criminology?. 

Assessment

Formative

Essay

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Written assignment, including essay  (5000 words) 100%

Repeat

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%
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