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Understanding the experience, meaning and messages of on the spot penalties

Snow, Adam J

Understanding the experience, meaning and messages of on the spot penalties Thumbnail


Adam J Snow


This thesis is a qualitative examination of the meanings, messages and experiences of those using and receiving on the spot penalties across a range of contexts in which such penalties arise. It explores the policy framework in which communications and expectations about “effective” criminal justice clash with everyday experiences of citizens receiving on the spot penalties. The thesis examines how these penalties have been allowed to increase so dramatically that they are now the main means through which justice is experienced when a citizen engages in problematic / deviant behaviour.

This growth in reliance on the on the spot penalty arises from the need to provide an “effective” justice system, one that provides an effective deterrent and takes a zerotolerance approach to offending, but, at the same time, seeks a proportional response to that offending. This thesis argues that this proportionality is not experienced by citizens who receive these notices, who argue that the penalty notice interaction lacks an essential element of procedural justice, the ability to engage in a ‘rational and reciprocal’ (Duff, 2001:79) communication. Inadequate opportunities for citizens to “voice” their concerns within the system leads to claims that enforcement agencies lack “common-sense”, are
illegitimate and untrustworthy.

This thesis argues that citizens then lose respect for enforcement agencies, and the laws they enforce through the on the spot penalty. Such citizens find that being motivated to comply with the law is not a good indicator of actually complying with it. When punished whilst holding a positive motivation about the law, citizens can become deeply frustrated and angry about the treatment they receive.

This thesis concludes that policymakers need to decide whether a ‘simple, speedy and summary’ (DCA, 2006) on the spot penalty can be achieved without significant damage to the legitimacy of the justice system.

Publication Date Jun 1, 2015


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