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The Game of Crime and Punishment

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The criminal justice process has often been compared to a ‘game’: the ‘games’ lawyers play, for example, or the various ‘games’ played by prisoners or prison psychologists. It is always other people who are playing games…. This lecture will explore current trial processes and sentencing processes in England and Wales by comparing them to traditional games: in what sense is a trial like a game of ‘blind man’s buff’? why does progressing through the prison system feel to many prisoners like a game of ‘snakes and ladders’? Of course, none of these processes really feel like a game to the principal players. But the analogies can throw fresh light on how we should evaluate the effectiveness of our criminal justice system.


Nicola Padfield is Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, where she has worked for more than 20 years. She has a broad research lens, engaged in both ‘hard’ law and in socio-legal-criminological research. She is a leading European expert on sentencing law, including the law and practice of release from (and recall to) prison. A barrister by training, she has published widely on many aspects of criminal law, sentencing and criminal justice. She sat as a Recorder (part-time judge) in the Crown Court 2002-2014 and is a Bencher of the Middle Temple.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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