DIGITAL CRIMINOLOGY: REIMAGINING SPACE, PRESENCE, EVIDENCE AND POLICING

Dr Carolyn McKay1,  Dr Gregory Stratton3, Professor Murray Lee4, Dr Emmeline Taylor5, Dr Justin Ellis6

1University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia,

2York Law School, York, United Kingdom,

3RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia,

4University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia,

5City University of London, London, United Kingdom,

6University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Prison video links, video hearings and procedural justice: Case studies from Australia and England

Presenter: Dr Carolyn McKay

Programs of court digitisation are transforming criminal procedure as well as modes of delivering and accessing justice. For instance, a £1.2bn court digitisation program is being undertaken in England and Wales that is significantly increasing the use of digital and video technologies.  At the same time, physical courthouses are rapidly facing closure and obsolescence. Throughout Australia, too, criminal procedure is increasingly shifting to virtual and de-spatialised models.

This paper will present findings from new research conducted in both Australia and England. Drawing on an evolving database of Australian and English case law regarding audio visual links (AVL), this paper will examine judicial comments regarding both positive and negative elements of AVL including: how AVL impacts assessments of credibility or demeanour; AVL and perceptions of prejudice and measures to diminish unfairness; how AVL may solve courtroom intimidation yet challenge the principle of confrontation; how communication by AVL is affected especially with people suffering mental health or cognitive issues. In this way, the paper will present new knowledge regarding the implications of digital technologies on the administration of justice, access to justice and procedural justice.

From Presence to Absence – The Case of the Disappearing Defendant

Presenter: Dr Kate Leader

A defendant’s live presence is constitutive to the adversarial method of evidence testing; confrontation and demeanour assessment, amongst other factors, play important (if not uncontroversial) roles in how the ‘truth’ is determined (either by judge or by a jury) within the trial. As such, performative concerns; how a defendant enacts and inhabits her role, how she is displayed, positioned, constrained or silenced, whilst not always explicitly articulated in such terms, have long been of concern to criminologists and some theatre and performance scholars. These performative concerns are also therefore centrally implicated in the question of defendant rights, such as the right to a fair trial or access to justice.

But in 2019 we face new challenges that call into question some fundamental ideas around defendant presence and evidence testing: firstly, technological advances have led to the increase of defendants appearing remotely in hearings from the police station or prison in which they are being held on remand. Secondly, ‘Online courts’, where a defendant enters her plea via computer, have also emerged as the future for some criminal proceedings (and possibly more in the future). Thirdly, there has been an expansion of the use of trials in absentia which means that criminal trials may also increasingly take place in a defendant’s absence. All of these above shifts, while disparate, suggest that perhaps seeing presence as a precondition of criminal proceedings is an increasingly outmoded one.

This paper therefore tries to understand the implications of these changes for a defendant by shifting the conversation from presence to absence. Drawing on sociolegal and performance theory I consider the implications of absence in the criminal trial; asking, what happens when the defendant disappears?

Websleuthing and wrongful conviction: digital evidence, online activism and innocence projects

Presenter: Dr Greg Stratton

Innocence projects often participate in digital spaces that require navigation of the past and present in some unique ways. The competing narratives of official records with the claims of those claiming to victims of miscarriages of justice create a need to explore the past, engage with the assumptions of collective memory, and re-imagine what can happen and be done. Digital technologies provide help and hindrance in pursuing the truth in contentious claims of innocence. For innocence projects, digital spaces provide the chance to share evidence, collect new information, as well as practice new forms of digital advocacy. Counter to this work; projects are often encumbered with a past that was not digital, a public access to limited case information, and counter-activists who often side with victims and established narratives. Activities from both broaden public engagement with cases and serve as an additional investigative tool that can bring new witnesses and evidence into claims of wrongful conviction. Using research from the Bridge of Hope Innocence Project at RMIT, this paper discusses pro-wrongful conviction and pro-guilt digital spaces related to cases to examine the nature of amateur websleuthing and digital investigations in the post-conviction environment.

Body Worn Cameras: Police Lenses and Public Views

Presenters: Professor Murray Lee & Dr Emmeline Taylor

Police organisations have embraced the use of body worn cameras (BWC) across an increasing number of jurisdictions. The motivations for this include the collection of video evidence, protecting police from fallacious citizen complaints, transparency in policing, and keeping police accountable for their actions. The logic is that BWC will provide police with a more accurate digital account of events – particularly critical events where police power is exercised. While research with police suggests strong support for the cameras (Clare et al 2019), and our own surveys of police detainees (Lee, Taylor and Willis 2019; Taylor and Lee 2019) also suggest even those more likely to be affected by police power support their use, there is still little research regarding what the general public thinks of the use of the cameras. This paper reports on a survey of 1000 adult Australians who were asked about their views of BWC. While there was general support for the use of BWC, there were important caveats that are reflected in the growing body of critical literature on the topic. Moreover, the growing capabilities of BWC technology opens up questions as to whether the public understands the future implications of embracing police BWC.

Police, media and politician perspectives on social media generated police scandal

Presenter: Dr Justin Ellis

Despite the use of empirical police scandal as the basis for a range of popular media representations of policing, rarely have criminologists explored scandal as a concept or its attempted management by criminal justice organisations. Using Mawby’s police scandal framework this presentation considers the unique characteristics of a social media generated police scandal and the implications for police working under such circumstances. Through 30 in-depth interviews with sworn and unsworn police, media and politicians the presentation provides a first-hand perspective on the impact of the police scandal generated by a YouTube video of police excessive force at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. The unpredictability of social media and the rules of disclosure on police organisational responses can put police who work closely with politically well organised minority communities in a difficult position. The presentation considers the boundaries of authentic police rhetoric in the context of increasingly casualised police language on social media platforms and the increased practice by mainstream media of ‘opinion journalism’.


Biography:

Dr Carolyn McKay is a Lecturer at the University of Sydney Law School where she teaches Criminal Law and Civil & Criminal Procedure. In 2020 she will present a new digital criminology elective that connects with her primary research focus on technologies in justice. Stemming from her empirical prison research, in 2018 she published her first research monograph The Pixelated Prisoner (Routledge). In addition, Carolyn has found an intersection between visual criminological research and her visual arts practice that is made manifest in her significant non traditional research outputs including curatorial and exhibition roles.

Dr Greg Stratton is a Lecturer in Justice & Legal Studies at RMIT University and is also the manager of The Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative at RMIT University. Dr Stratton’s research interests focus on wrongful conviction, state crime, and digital criminology. In 2018 co-authored Digital Criminology: Crime and Justice in Digital Society (Routledge) with Anastasia Powell and Robin Cameron.

Murray Lee is Professor of Criminology, University of Sydney Law School. His research focuses on representations and perceptions of crime and how these lead to criminalisation. He is the co-editor / author of The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime, Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety, co-author of Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications, co-editor of Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety, and editor of the scholarly journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice.

Dr Emmeline Taylor is a Reader in Criminology at City University of London. She has completed empirical research in areas including; surveillance and new technologies, armed robbery, residential burglary, retail crime, and crime and security in education. Dr Taylor is author of Surveillance Schools (Palgrave, 2013); Surveillance Futures (Routledge, 2017, w/T. Rooney); The Palgrave International Handbook of School Discipline, Surveillance, and Social Control (Palgrave, 2018, w/J. Deakin and A. Kupchik); Such is Life: Armed Robbery, Cultural Mythscapes and Affective Transgression (forthcoming); and, Crime, Deviance, and Society: A Sociological Introduction (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, w/ A. Rodas et al.)

Dr Justin Ellis  is a lecturer in Criminology at the University of Newcastle and a member of the Institute of Criminology, Sydney Law School. His research examines the impact of digital technologies on public trust and confidence in institutions with a current focus on police and minority communities. His scholarship has been published in high-ranking internationally peer-reviewed journal Policing and Society and award-winning anthropology publication Kyoto Journal. Justin has over five years’ experience researching and lecturing in Criminology at three universities – the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney.

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