New publication alert

Cyrus Tata

Cyrus Tata

ESC WG on Sentencing and Penal Decision-Making


Stewart Field

Stewart Field

School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University


Several members of the ESC’s Working Group on Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making have created a distinctive new volume. It’s about how people who are judged by criminal justice are ‘made’ to appear to approximate to certain ideals to those who judge them.

  1. What is the book about?

The book is about the significance of remorse and responsibility in the operation of a variety of criminal justice systems across the world. It shows how at different stages of the justice process there is an implicit model of the ‘ideal defendant’ at work. It examines how this implicit model of the ‘ideal defendant’ works in different ways in different countries.

By ‘defendant’ we mean anyone proceeded against by state criminal justice. So the book examines not only criminal trials and sentencing in different systems but also rehabilitation, parole and restorative justice.

Those brought before the courts, are expected to display certain attitudes towards those courts, their alleged offences and their possible future offending. Specifically, they should demonstrate clear acceptance of their personal responsibility and express ‘genuine’ remorse. Many defendants fall short of this ideal but they are encouraged by criminal justice practitioners throughout the system to align themselves as closely as possible to it. And they will be evaluated and treated by the system (more severely or more leniently) in the light of their performance of these expectations.

So in practice, remorse and acceptance of responsibility are not objective qualities ‘out there’ to be discovered in particular defendants or particular cases: they are constructed in the criminal justice process through routine interactions between defendants and practitioners. However, this ‘making’ of remorse and responsibility is fraught with cultural misinterpretations and unrealistic expectations.

Yet, it serves an important latent function for the state and for practitioners. Acceptance of remorse and responsibility by defendants signals publicly that defendants acknowledge the legitimacy of their own punishment. This reassures practitioners that the routine coercion of the system does not represent injustice. And it enables the public enactment of an apparently shared understanding between state and citizen after a moment of rupture in their relationship.


  1. Why did we write it?

The book is seeking to bring together two bodies of criminal justice scholarship that have developed largely in isolation from each other.

First, there is work on the way that criminal justice practitioners use and apply certain forms of categorisation as a means of sorting and dealing with defendants. These can be social categories (such as gender, race, and social class). There may also be categorization on the basis of state managerial tools (especially risk-management assessments) or performance indicators (such as speed, cost and efficiency).

But what part do defendants’ emotions or images of self play in these processes of classification and sorting? These studies largely ignore those questions.

Yet the role of emotion has become central to a vast developing international body of criminal justice scholarship. Part of this attention to emotion has been focused on remorse and its relationship with criminal responsibility. The literature has addressed many important questions: whether remorse affects the tendency to reoffend; its relationship with risk; the feelings of victims; and public attitudes to the role of remorse in sentencing. There is work on whether remorse ought to be a factor in decision-making (particularly in sentencing and parole) and how it relates to philosophical theories justifying punishment. But this body of scholarship has not considered what role emotions like remorse might play in the classification of defendants and their efficient processing by the state.

The book argues that emotions are themselves a key consideration in the categorisation of defendants and have significant consequences for the managerial efficiency of the criminal justice system. If defendants want continued recognition as an individual, as a citizen and as a member of the community, they have to conform to certain expectations about appropriate displays of emotion (specifically remorse and the acceptance of responsibility). But the result may not always be catharsis, healing or even genuine recognition of the unique individual.

So the book investigates the challenges and paradoxes that emerge when emotions such as remorse become part of a system of normalized expectations. It goes beyond the distinct bodies of research on emotion and classification to examine what happens when emotion itself becomes classified.


  • How did we go about doing this research

The book is a classic illustration of the benefits of international collaboration. Its genesis lay in ESC conferences  - specifically sessions in the stream run by the ESC’s Working Group on Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making. This then developed and after winning funding from the Cardiff Centre of Law and Society, we held a two-day International Seminar in Cardiff to workshop the ideas.

There were rich discussions over two days of both individual papers and the collective project which involved both authors and a broader audience. The experience and insights feeding into that discussion were truly international with original contributors from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Slovenia, Scotland, the United States and Wales. Since then, collective discussion and editing has taken place through the modern wonders of digital communication and through the challenges of a global pandemic. Through it all we have been lucky to work with a wonderful editorial, copy-editing and marketing team at Hart/Bloomsbury.

The contents of the book range across different countries and different ways of constructing defendants: we think the book brings something new to established themes and opens new paths for international and cross-culturalresearch.

We would love to get comments and feedback from readers to continue the discussions and guide those new paths.


For more information…

The book home page is here:

The introductory chapter sets out the key themes of the book and summarises its individual chapters. It is available open access here:

Stewart Field is Professor of Law at the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University, Wales. Cyrus Tata is Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the Law School, University of Strathclyde, Scotland.

DISCOUNT CODES: To order this title go to To receive your 20% discount use discount code GLR BE1UK in the UK/ROW, GLR BE1US in the US, GLR BE1CA in Canada, or GLR BE1AU in Australia and New Zealand. A note for EU customers: eBooks can still be purchased with 20% discount online