UCL Faculty of Laws


In-Person | Criminal Justice and Social (In)Justice

17 January 2023, 3:00 pm–5:00 pm

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This event is organised by the Institute for Laws, Politics and Philosophy (ILPP)

Event Information

Open to



UCL Laws


UCL Main Campus (Haldane Room)
Wilkins Building
Gower Street

Please note that the time allocated for this colloquia will be devoted to discussion of the paper.

Speaker: Prof. Nicola Lacey (LSE)

About the paper

A recognition of the obstacles to achieving criminal justice in a society marked by structural injustice has been a longstanding feature of philosophical, legal and criminological literatures. Inequalities and injustices in social attitudes to certain groups and in the distribution of resources and opportunities in fields ranging from family life, education, health care, shelter and secure employment are perhaps the most obviously relevant features of a social order. Moreover the experience of abuse, prejudice, violence or nutritional or emotional deprivation is now understood to affect not simply economic and life opportunities but psychological and cognitive development. The consequent threat to the legitimacy of punishment is particularly acute when the state itself bears substantial responsibility for either creating, or failing to alleviate, the relevant conditions. Though the causal chains are complex, it is no exaggeration – nor is it inconsistent with a recognition of the role of individual agency – to speak of many injustices as criminogenic.

Meeting the challenge of doing a measure of criminal justice in these circumstances remains important, however, because of a further consideration, and one that complicates the moral and political challenge. This is the fact that disproportionalities in the impact of criminalisation and punishment on groups disadvantaged by injustice are matched by comparable disproportionalities in criminal victimisation. Economically marginalised groups and those subject to racism and other forms of prejudice find themselves not only on the sharp end of the criminal justice system, but also disproportionately the victims of crime. They also, all too often, face poor provision of criminal justice services such as policing.

In recent decades, this longstanding challenge has been exacerbated by emerging features of political economy in the so-called advanced democracies: notably the growth and embedding of economic inequalities. The increase in poverty and the emergence in many relatively wealthy countries of a polarised demographic featuring a substantial minority excluded from many of the benefits of economic growth, and even of political association, has both complicated the political challenge facing democratic governments, and significantly exacerbated the injustices which had long been apparent. In this paper, I analyse these developments, and consider their normative upshot and practical implications for the criminal justice, and their role in the re-emergence of new forms of criminal justice abolitionism.

About the speaker

Nicola Lacey is School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy at the London School of Economics and a UCL Laws alumna. She taught at UCL between 1981-84 and subsequently took up appointments at New College Oxford (1984-1995) and Birkbeck College (1995-97) before joining LSE in 1998. From 2010 - 2013 she was Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, and Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the University of Oxford. She has held a number of visiting appointments, most recently at Harvard Law School, at New York University Law School and at the Australian National University. She is an Honorary Fellow of New College Oxford and of University College Oxford. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, served as a member of the British Academy’s Policy Group on Prisons, which reported in 2014, and was from 2014-2019 the Academy’s nominee on the Board of the British Museum. In 2017 she was awarded a CBE for services to Law, Justice and Gender Politics; and she holds Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Edinburgh and Oslo. In 2011 she was awarded the Hans Sigrist Prize by the University of Bern, for scholarship on the rule of law in modern societies; and in 2022 she won the Law and Society Association’s International Prize.

About the Institute

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from Law, Political Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3. Read more about the institutes work

If you would like to be added to the ILPP mailing list please contact us at laws-events@ucl.ac.uk.

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