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Discretion & Lay Participation in National and International Criminal Justice (Advert Reference: RDF22/BL/LAW/Kotecha)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Birju Kotecha  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Discretion is a feature of most criminal justice systems. It pervades organisational decision-making and exists at various levels; administrative, technical, and judicial. Taking just one example, prosecutorial discretion has a crucial role in shaping public confidence and thus, unsurprisingly, its exercise is closely examined.

In recent years the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been subject to robust scrutiny. Criticisms have targeted its historic failure to prosecute child sexual abuse to, more recently, the incidence of decisions to prosecute individuals (often celebrities) for sexual offences which, in some instances, have led to collapsed trials. Similarly, the falling rate and volume of prosecutions for rape offences has attracted considerable public debate. The huge volume of online hate speech has also led to questions about how the CPS weighs the gravity of alleged offences in the course of making a charging decision.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), established more than twenty years ago to try the most serious atrocities in international law, has also been subject to frequent criticism. Specifically, the Court’s Prosecutor has been attacked for alleged bias and selectivity. This includes the under-prosecution of cases against powerful States and finalising charges that do not represent the true nature of the alleged criminality e.g., gender-based persecution. With a new Prosecutor having taken office in 2021 it is an apt time to re-examine his discretion and the (new) policies and approaches that are likely to guide its exercise.  

Meanwhile, there has been a trend towards improving lay participation in decisions that are made in the name of the public interest and/or the interests of justice. This trend has been precipitated by steps to improve procedural fairness and enabling opportunities for the public and wider stakeholders to shape policies and influence the exercise of discretion. Various models of consultation and participation have been adopted to ensure that justice is being seen to be done and to assist criminal justice to fulfil its deterrent function.

On one level, formal mechanisms such as the CPS’s Victim Right to Review Scheme have sought to accommodate victim representations about crucial decisions such as a decision not to prosecute. In December 2021, the Government began consulting on further reforms designed to better serve and protect victims' interests during a case. However, momentum in this direction has begun to invite attention to models of wider public participation found in other jurisdictions, such as the grand jury model in the USA or, in a different guise, prosecutorial review commissions that operate in Japan. Falling far short of such established mechanisms, are other communication innovations and public relations activities which can offer potential benefits but also pose risks to the independence and legitimacy of prosecutions.

This project enhances the academic and practical understanding of discretion across national and international criminal justice, and generates fresh insights into the opportunities and challenges posed by lay participation.

Scholars who are also encouraged to treat the project’s scope flexibly. Whilst the project as conceived focuses on prosecutorial discretion, projects that examine discretion in related parts of the criminal justice system are welcome too. Original and diverse interdisciplinary perspectives will be viewed favourably (e.g., theoretical, philosophical, law in context, criminology, sociology, political science, and management).

The project concentrates on either/both England and Wales or the International Criminal Court, however, ideas for comparative research examining discretion in other jurisdictions including the USA, Japan or civil law traditions in continental Europe fall within project’s parameters. Likewise, the project may examine wider questions that shape how discretion is exercised such as performance measurement, organisational culture, policy-making, public engagement, accountability mechanisms and victims’ rights, to name only a few examples.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. Reference: RDF22/BL/LAW/Kotecha) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Principal Supervisor - Dr Birju Kotecha

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


• The International Criminal Court’s Selectivity and Procedural Justice (2020) 18(1) Journal of International Criminal Justice 107-139.
• The Art of Rhetoric: Perceptions of the International Criminal Court and Legalism (2018) 15(4) Leiden Journal of International Law 939-962.
• The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor and the Limits of Performance Indicators (2017) 15(3) Journal of International Criminal Justice 543-565
• [Forthcoming] Prosecutors, the Public Interest and the Challenge of Reconciliation, in Brants and others (eds), Making a Difference: The Impact of Transitional Justice (Series on Socio-Legal Frontiers of Transitional Justice) (Routledge, 2022)
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