Dr Max Lowenstein, from the Law Department in the Business School, has a piece of research coming out in Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal (rated A in the Excellence Research Australia journal ranking list) that explores the meaning of judicial denunciation. The article attempts to relate sentencing principle, policy and social theory to legal practice by comparing the perceptions of English and Danish lower Court judges when sentencing minor theft offenders. There is no coherent international academic agreement as to what judicial denunciation means. The qualitative data gathered by interviewing Danish and English judges commonly pointed to the ‘public condemnation of someone or something’ Oxford Dictionaries Online (World English). In other words, judges pointing out wrongful behavior in theft offenders during sentence summation and explaining how this impacts victims, themselves and wider society. Through a small comparison of judicial perceptions in two distinct legal cultures there were common hints provided as to what denunciation may mean and what it could achieve when applied to theft offenders. In England, the potentially negative repercussions of denouncing theft offenders in Court were the focus. As one English lay judge eloquently summed up;
‘There is little impact on hardened persistent theft offenders because they know full well what they have done is wrong. It is like water off a duck’s back to them. Public shaming only has an impact if the theft offender cares about what others think of him.’
However, in Denmark, the potentially positive repercussions of denouncing theft offenders in Court were the focus. As one Danish professional judge confidently stated;
‘When you explain why conduct is unacceptable in society, particularly early on in a theft offender’s anti-social habits, it can act as an important wake up call.’
Sadly comparative qualitative data on judicial denunciation is very rare due to the significant challenges it presents to the researcher. Indeed this research comparing such an important element of the sentencing approach had never been attempted before. By gathering more data across legal cultures it may be possible to align our theoretical understandings of judicial denunciation with the common perceptions in legal practice across Europe and beyond. In this way, comparative academics can contribute to the continuing future globalization of criminal justice. Much more research on judicial denunciation can and should be done. In so doing, how public condemnation of wrongful behavior is commonly perceived by judges in relation to similar criminal offences across different legal cultures will begin to emerge.