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Agencies in the Criminal Justice System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1674 words Published: 17th May 2017

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The common thread binding the agencies of the criminal justice system is centred upon crime and the control of crime. (Garland 2001; 5-8). It can be argued that the agencies of criminal justice including, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the courts, the prison service and the probation service all have separate and distinctive functions but operate towards a common overarching goal – crime control. (Maguire et al 2007; 139-141). It is the structure and organisation of criminal justice that is characterised by fragmentation, differential roles and aims amongst institutions forming parts of the criminal justice system, coupled with the absence of a single Governmental department charged with responsibility for criminal justice policy and its implementation which accounts for a differential of functions all aimed towards the common goal of crime control. (McConville and Wilson 2002; 5). It is argued by McConville and Wilson (2002) that determining what constitutes an institution of the criminal justice system in any country will be complex due to the nature and operation of a system entailing great multiplicity. (Ibid). However, Sanders et al (2010) identify that the core agencies of the criminal justice system in England and Wales can be identified as follows:

(1) The Police, which can be divided further into three distinct groupings. Firstly the local branches of police throughout England and Wales. Secondly the national police bodies such as the Organised Crime Agency and the British Transport Police. Thirdly specialist agency watchdogs such as the Health and Safety Executive which focus on particular types of criminality.

(2) The CPS which is primarily responsible for deciding whether cases prepared by the police should proceed to prosecution.

(3) The Courts which can be divided further into lower courts and higher courts. The lower courts are composed of the magistrates’ courts where all criminal offences will start off. The higher courts are composed of the Crown Court which deal specifically with more serious forms of offences. The division between the magistrates court and the Crown Court will be by the initial classification of the offence as either being summary giving exclusive jurisdiction to the magistrates court or of indictable offences giving exclusive jurisdiction to the Crown Court.

(4) The Prison Service which is charged with dealing with offenders convicted and sentence to a custodial sentence. Their role within criminal justice is arguable dual, firstly to deprive dangerous offenders of their liberty acting as a deterrent to offenders and secondly to rehabilitate offenders back to society.

(5) The Probation Service which is charged with dealing with offenders coming out of prison and their ‘aftercare’ with integration into society. (Sanders et al 2010; 2-6).

In order to determine whether these agencies have both common and distinctive functions they will be discussed in detail below and the paper will then draw conclusions on their role and aims within criminal justice.

The Police:

Policing in England and Wales is decentralised to local police forces which operate through the country in approximately 43 forces. The powers provided to the police can be characterised by the right to ‘stop and search’ people and their property, the right to arrest a suspect, the right to detain a suspect at the police service for interrogation, the right to collect evidence and the right to compile reports for the CPS to allow them to determine whether a case should proceed to trial. (Sanders et al 2010). The discretion afforded to police officers in exercising their public duty is a characteristic of the nature of how criminal laws operate, in that discretion underpins the operation of the police officers role within criminal justice. (Clarkson et al 1994; 6-8). The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) provide the main statutory framework for the operation of the police in conducting criminal investigations. The Act is supplemented with ‘Codes of Practice’ which set out goods standards for policing in conducting their business of detecting and investigating crime . PACE 1984 allows the police powers of ‘stop and search’, arrest, detention and the collection of evidence. The role and function of the police can be identified as the primary role in managing and dealing with crime. (Sanders 1986; 303). They will be the first agency of the criminal justice system which come into contact with suspected offenders. Their role as distinct from the other agencies will primarily be based around detecting and investigating crime in addition to the collection of vital evidence as proof of the commission of the offence. (Ibid). The common function to all other agencies of criminal justice is to manage and control crime.

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The Crown Prosecution Service:

One of the CPS’s roles within the criminal justice system is to exercise a ‘public interest’ in determining which cases should be prosecuted through the courts. (Moody and Tombs 1982; 44-52). It is the control mechanism within criminal justice to filter out cases which can be considered inappropriate to proceed to the next stage within the criminal justice system. It is the value judgements made by the CPS that allows an assessment to be made on the strength of the evidence collected by the police and the public interest in bringing the case which can be identified as being the distinctive functions of the CPS. It is therefore possible to identify that there is a linkage between the first agency of policing to the second agency of prosecuting where there is an inter-dependency for success in controlling crime. The CPS will only be able to bring cases which have compelling evidence to succeed in the prosecution. Therefore the distinctive role the prosecution attains within the criminal justice system is that of deciding which cases to allow proceed to court based upon the work of the police in collecting evidence.

The Courts:

The courts occupy a special terrain within the criminal justice system in that they allow the facilitation of evidence to be tried and tested to a standard of beyond all reasonable doubt. (McConville 1994; 228). They occupy the neutral position of being able to afford both sides equality to put their case in a fair and just manner. The secondary role is focused very much on determining a case, deciding which side present the strongest arguments on the evidence. The final role is centred upon sentencing an offender in accordance with the law and gravity of the offence before the court where a conviction is founded on the evidence. The core function of the courts is to facilitate the presentation of evidence in a fair and balanced way, to adjudicate according to the laws of England and Wales and finally to sentence in accordance with sentencing principles. It is arguable a very special and distinctive position within criminal justice in that it allows the full operation of the law in practice in determining an offenders culpability for a charged offence. However, it is also possible to establish that the courts service have the common function of dealing with crime and controlling crime through its sentencing regimes.

The Prison Service:

The prison service deals exclusively with offenders convicted and sentenced to a custodial sentence. Their role within criminal justice is to facilitate a judicial decision to deprive an offenders liberty in order to fulfil the sentence of a court. The role is distinctive because it is primarily directed to controlling and managing the offenders’ behaviour throughout their sentence. However, it is common to the other agencies within criminal justice in that it facilitates crime control and contributes to an offenders rehabilitation into society.

The Probation Service:

The probation service will also occupy a special position within criminal justice in that they will become involved with offenders during sentencing at the trial stage but also when an offender is released from prison in their integration back into society. Therefore they provide the key transition support for offenders allowing their integration back into society to live lives without crime.


Although there are other criminal justice agencies such as the Criminal Defence Service, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, the focus of this paper has been primarily directed at the core agencies within criminal justice dealing with the progression of an offender through the system. It is identifiable that the very nature of the fragmentation of crime and criminal justice necessitates an array of agencies to deal with the specific nature of criminal offending. Each of these agencies occupies a particular space within criminal justice in dealing with crime and in contributing to the overall control and management of crime. Further, it is clear that each agency has a distinctive role in that the police are the initial gatekeepers of criminal justice by deciding which cases to investigate and how they collect evidence. Similarly the prosecution have a specific role in deciding to prosecute and executing a prosecution. The courts also occupy a special function of delivering justice and facilitating a trial of an offender. It is clear that all of the agencies of the criminal justice have very specific roles and functions which serve particular goals and aims of criminal justice at particular points when dealing with offenders. Each role contributes to the overall aim of managing and controlling crime in society. In final conclusion it can be argued that each agency within criminal justice have distinctive but yet common goals within the criminal justice system.


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