Information and punitiveness: trial reconstruction in Ireland

Mai Sato, Mike Hough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report results from a rape trial reconstruction in Ireland. Design/methodology/approach – A studio audience of 100 members of the Irish public were selected to attend a TV programme by the Republic of Ireland’s national broadcasting organisation. This involved the examination of the sentencing of a rape case. The audience’s sentencing preferences were measured at the outset, when they had been given only summary information about the case, and later, when full details had been disclosed. Findings – Previous research examining changes in public attitudes to crime and punishment has shown that deliberation, including the provision of new information and discussion with others and experts, tends to decrease public punitiveness and increase public leniency towards sentencing. An experiment in Ireland, however, showed that providing information does not invariably and necessarily moderate punitive attitudes. This paper presents the results, and offers some explanations for the anomalous outcome. Research limitations/implications – The pre/post design, in which the audience served as their own controls, is a weak one, and participants may have responded to what they took to be the agenda of the producers. Due to the quality of the sample, the results may not be generalisable to the broader Irish population. Practical implications – Policy makers should recognise that the public is not uniformly punitive for all crimes. There is good research evidence to show that the apparent public appetite for tough punishment is illusory, and is a function of the way that polls measure public attitudes to punishment. Sentencers and those responsible for sentencing policy would benefit from a fuller understanding of the sorts of cases which illicit strong punitive responses from the public, and the reasons for this response. However any such understanding should not simply translate into responsiveness to the public’s punitive sentiments – where these exist. Innovative survey methods – like this experiment – which attempt to look beyond the top-of-the-head opinions by providing information and opportunities for deliberation should be welcomed and used more widely. Originality/value – There have been limited research studies which reports factors which may increase punitiveness through the provision of information and deliberation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-98
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Courts
  • Custody
  • Evidence based practice
  • Justice
  • Sentencing
  • Victims

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