Public opinion and the rhetoric of police powers in 1920s Britain

Wood, John (2011). Public opinion and the rhetoric of police powers in 1920s Britain. In: Bastien, Pascal; Fyson, Donald; Garneau, Jean-Philippe and Nootens, Thierry eds. Justice et Espaces Publics en Occident de l'Antiquité à nos Jours. Québec: Presses de l'Université du Québec, pp. 327–336.

URL: http://www.puq.ca/catalogue/livres/justice-espaces...

Abstract

This essay examines public constructions of criminal justice by considering a series of scandals around British policing in the late 1920s. Centring on concerns about London’s Metropolitan Police, this crisis led to two parliamentary investigations in 1928. This analysis of the “police and public” debates contributes to the histories and theories of the “public sphere”, especially the multiplicity of publics and the importance of debates around particular issues and of rhetoric in forming public opinion. In exploring the creation of—and tensions within—such a public imaginary though the “police and public” debates, I focus on the role of an ideal of Britishness and the extent to which efforts to create a rhetorically unified “public” remained haunted by underlying political and institutional conflicts. Ultimately, this case study highlights the limits on the ability of public opinion to influence the criminal justice system, as, despite public and political pressure, no fundamental reforms of the police resulted from the issues raised in this case.

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