The Culture of Criminal Justice and the Limits of Criminal Law: Wrongful Convictions, Legal Rules and Social Theory

By Diana Young.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Foucauldian conceptions of power present a challenge to legal academics and practitioners who seek to achieve social transformation through the reform of legal rules. The idea that power does not emanate from the state, that it circulates throughout society and is exercised at a micro level, and the concepts of governmentality and the production of knowledge, all suggest that institutional structures may be resistant to change through law reform. Recent responses in Canada to the issue of wrongful conviction bring this issue into sharp focus. Inquiries into wrongful convictions have identified various institutional practices that always shape outcomes in criminal prosecutions, but only become visible when the system is perceived to have failed. Legal practitioners and academics tend to propose additional layers of accountability, and changes to the structure provided by legal rules, as a means of addressing the problem. But is it realistic to imagine that the law can provide answers to such heinous failures of a system that is already very rule-bound, and which already contains many layers and mechanisms of accountability? Do we instead require a more nuanced understanding of the law as a site of power among many other sites in order to effect social change? In this paper I will consider wrongful convictions with respect to the law and its relationship to other disciplines, and how a better understanding of that relationship may lead to a better understanding the role of law in society.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Wrongful Conviction, Social Theory

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 11, pp.227-238. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 629.209KB).

Dr. Diana Young

Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Diana Young received her LLB from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and practiced law for several years before doing graduate studies at the University of Toronto. She now teaches topics in Criminal Law at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, including Sentencing and Wrongful Convictions. Her research interests include theories of autonomy, particularly with respect to how we understand criminal culpability, Feminist legal theory, law and film, critical criminology, and the relationship between legal theory and social theory.

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