Crime Research Centre

Research projects

See below for a sample of projects undertaken within the Centre.

Expert Witnesses and Legal Aid Cuts

Dr Lucy Welsh and Dr Amy Clarke secured funding from Research England’s Strategic Priorities Fund to conduct small scale exploratory research on the impact of legal aid cuts on expert witnesses in criminal cases.

Following two focus groups, in which seven expert witnesses participated, Dr Welsh and Dr Clarke found that:   

1. Legal aid payments rates are so low that both the quality and sustainability of publicly funded expert witness work appears to be in jeopardy. The disparity in payment rates inside and outside of London did not make sense to the participants in this focus groups. 

2. Low payment rates are compounded by increased business overhead costs, and concerns around the need for accreditation, in light of stagnant fees in the face of  inflation. 

3. Low payment rates also make other areas and types of work more attractive to expert  witnesses, resulting in potential long term significant sustainability issues. 

4. Experts who participated in these focus groups expressed serious concerns about a lack of understanding of what their work involved at the LAA, alongside concerns that the LAA is overly focused on price rather than the quality or expertise required.  

5. Concerns over low morale became apparent as expert witnesses discussed feeling demeaned or undermined by the public funding regime. 

6. Relationships between expert witnesses and defence lawyers were at risk of being strained over when and how payment should be made.  

7. Ultimately, participants raised concerns surrounding quality, sustainability, and equality of  arms in relation to commissioning expert witness work. 

In light of the above, their three recommendations are: 

a. Payment rates should be reviewed with a view to being increased, and the need for different rates inside and outside London should be reconsidered 

b. Communication should be improved between expert witnesses, the LAA and defence lawyers. This could be partially achieved by expert witness payments being made directly by the LAA rather than through solicitors.  

c. Payments for expert witness work should have greater focus on quality than  price, though experts should not be expected to bear all the costs associated with quality assurance. 

The full report can be read here

Hate Crime and the Legal Process

Prof. Mark Walters (Sussex), Dr Susann Wiedlitzka (Sussex) and Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah (LSE) are the co-authors of Hate Crime and the Legal Process: Options for law reform report, which is based on analysis of new statistics, a detailed review of over 100 cases, and 71 in-depth interviews with police, prosecutors, the judiciary, independent barristers, victims, local authorities, and charity groups.

Prof. Mark Walters and colleagues recommend that at the very least the current law needs to be amended to make sure victims of hate crime of all characteristics – racial, religious, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity - are protected equally under the legislation. Ideally, however, a new Hate Crime Act should be introduced that would aggravate any criminal offence that demonstrates hostility towards, or is committed by reason of, the victim’s (presumed) race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.

As such the key recommendation of the report is that a new Hate Crime Act is enacted. Failing that, the authors make three other recommendations:

1)      That, as a minimum, Parliament amend s. 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act to include sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity

2)      That the offences of affray, violent disorder, theft and handling stolen goods, robbery, burglary, fraud and forgery, s. 18 grievous bodily harm, homicide offences and all sexual offences are added to the Crime and Disorder Act

3)      That s. 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act is amended to remove the word “motivation” and to replace this with a new “by reason” test

The study also makes recommendations for the police, prosecutors and the judiciary for improving their practice.  

The study found particular problems in relation to:

  • the consistent application of sentencing provisions under ss. 145 & 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;
  • a reluctance in parts of the judiciary to accept “demonstrations of hostility” committed in the “heat of the moment” as falling within the scope of the legislation;
  • the potential for “double convictions” in the Magistrates’ Courts;
  • diverging approaches to calculating “uplifts” for enhanced sentencing;
  • the potential for “double counting” of hostility at sentencing, due to the fragmented nature of the legislation;
  • and a systemic failure to identity and “flag” disability hate crimes, as well as a reluctance amongst many judges and legal practitioners to accept evidence of targeted violence against disabled people as proof of “disability hostility”.   

The authors therefore recommend that: 

  • the Government legislates to create a new Hate Crime Act that consolidates the existing fragmented framework which would prescribe any offence as “aggravated” in law where there is evidence of racial, religious, sexual orientation, disability and/or transgender identity hostility;
  • the judiciary makes greater use of community and rehabilitation programmes that are designed to tackle the root causes of prejudice and hate as part of offenders’ “uplift”;
  • and for the many thousands of cases that never reach court, that the police and CPS should make greater efforts to offer restorative solutions to ensure that more is being done to address the individual, community and societal harms that are caused by hate crime. 

The researchers have also created a practitioner guide that provides an overview of hate crime laws in England and Wales and information on the key procedural issues that frequently arise during the prosecution and sentencing of hate crime offences.

Corruption, Dirty Capital and the London Property Market

Colin King, Liz David-Barrett and Dan Hough have been awarded £33,295 from the British Academy to investigate 'Corruption, Dirty Capital and the London Property Market'. The project - part of the British Academy's 'Tackling the UK's International Challenges' programme - commenced on 1 March 2017 and lasts for 12 months.

Ilaria Zavoli joined the project as Research Fellow in July 2017.

The team is looking at what the UK needs to do to tackle the problem of so-called 'facilitators' of corruption. This is particularly important in the UK as Britain remains vulnerable to money laundering via the London property market. The project will:

  1. examine illicit financial flows from developing countries and understand how that ‘dirty capital’ is laundered in the UK real estate sector; and
  2. assess the adequacy of the anti-money laundering framework and challenges in its implementation.
Criminal Cases Review Commission: Legal Aid and Legal Representatives

Professor Richard Vogler, Dr Lucy Welsh, Dr Liz McDonnell, Dr Susann Wiedlitzka and Dr Amy Clarke have recently completed their ESRC-funded project which explored the impact of legal aid cuts on legal representatives who assist (potential) applicants to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Based on analysis of all five stages of the project, which used both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis for triangulation, they suggest twelve recommendations.

Those recommendations are that:

• legal aid funding rates should be reviewed, with a view to increasing them to more realistic levels in the context of the specialised nature of CCRC casework;

• the CCRC further review their decision documents for clarity and utility for both legal representatives and unrepresented applicants;

• the CCRC adopt/publish a clear policy around the use of experts (and other forms of investigation);

• the application of sufficient benefit test for legal aid in CCRC casework be reviewed to allow lawyers to conduct more sifting work, and to recognise the value of that work in the system generally;

• interim payments (both disbursements and bills) for CCRC casework should be allowed, in order to ease cashflow for firms;

• the Legal Aid Agency should review the way in which it audits and assesses CCRC casework, and develop a more dialogic relationship with casework providers;

• the CCRC review engagement with legal professionals around what investigations are being conducted; 

• the CCRC reviews the guidance information available for legal representatives, and consider dialogic seminar style events for greater interaction, openness and engagement;

• legal professionals should get involved with any training and engagement events provided by, and in discussion with, the CCRC;

• legal professionals and the CCRC work together in relation to post-conviction disclosure where there might be a reasonable line of enquiry to be considered;

• legal professionals are selective about what information is sent to the CCRC, making sure that grounds are very clearly stated (either on the Easy Read form or by letter), what further investigations are considered necessary, and how that investigation will assist in determining that a real possibility of referral exists; and

• the CCRC budget be increased.

The report has been shared with the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, and with the Justice Committee inquiry, The Future of Legal Aid. Dr Welsh has been discussing the findings with both governmental and parliamentary representatives, as well as with the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association.

The full report can be found on the project website, and the CCRC response can be found on its website: CCRC website 

Policing Hate Crime: Modernising the Craft, an Evidence Based Approach

The report 'Patterns of Hate Crime' analyses data taken from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS) on hate crime, as part of an 18-month study. The report provides a detailed overview of the types of hate crimes that occur in London along with the common situational features and personal background characteristics of accused perpetrators for each of the five recognised strands of hate crime (e.g. race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender). The data presented below will also show whether there are differences in the dynamics of hate crime between and across types of hate-motivation. The analysis of this data has enabled us to provide a general picture of the circumstances in which different strands of hate crime occur, the types of incidents which are most common, the areas where different types of hate crime occur, the background details of individuals who typically commit different types of hate crime offences, and the types of relationships that are likely to exist between victims and accused perpetrators. In other words, what emerged from this study is a detailed analysis of the who, what, when and where of hate crimes.

This is a joint project with the Metropolitan Police Service, Palantir Technologies, Demos, and CASM Consulting LLP, and is funded by the Police Knowledge Fund.

This project is led by Professor David Weir of the Data Science Research Group. CRC member and hate crime expert, Prof. Mark Walters, is a co-investigator.

Full Report: Patterns of Hate Crime

Preventing Hate Crime

Prof. Mark Walters (Law), Professor Rupert Brown (Psychology) and Dr Susann Wiedlitzka (Law) carried out a comprehensive review of current hate crime interventions being used in England and Wales. In addition, the researchers conducted two round-table events, with policy-makers and practitioners taking part and contributing to the review’s recommendations.

A report of this research was published by the Crime Research Centre in partnership with the International Network for Hate Studies in October 2016, and is available for download:

Preventing Hate Crime Final Report [PDF 495KB]

Preventing Hate Crime Executive Summary [PDF 974KB]

The report recommends:

  • Restorative justice be more widely available to help offenders understand the harms caused by prejudice and to prevent further offences.
  • More investment from the Government to evaluate rehabilitation and education programmes and their success, to ensure that their future use is evidence-based.
  • More work should be done to help police to identify hate crimes and deal with the needs of victims, through training and multi-agency working.
  • Online apps should be investigated as an easier way for victims to report hate crimes.
  • All five protected characteristics (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender) should be treated equally in law.
  • The National Probation Service should create a knowledge sharing database to ensure that information, expertise and best practices are accessible by criminal justice agencies nationally.
Dirty Assets

This Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded network brings together experts from different academic disciplines, alongside practitioners and policymakers, to advance knowledge and understanding, and to identify future research directions in relation to anti-money laundering, asset recovery, and counter-terrorist financing.

This network cuts across conventional legal boundaries (eg civil/ criminal/ regulation); it transcends disciplinary boundaries; and it overcomes boundaries between the academic community and policymakers/ practitioners.

Building upon a very successful edited collection on Dirty Assets, four workshops were organised in Manchester, London, Tilburg (NL), and Notre Dame (US). Following on from these workshops, the organisers are currently editing The Handbook of Criminal and Terrorism Financing Law, to be published in 2017. This Handbook will be edited by Dr Colin King (Sussex), Professor Clive Walker (Leeds), and Professor Jimmy Gurulé (Notre Dame).

For further details, see the Dirty Assets Network webpage.

Workshop on Female Genital Mutilation

Dr Verona Ní Drisceoil was awarded funding from the Sussex Research Opportunities Fund (ROF) to host and facilitate an interdisciplinary round table workshop to discuss and critique legislative reforms to the law on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK.

While the discourse on reforms to the law on FGM are presented as being well-intentioned and positioned within a broader ‘safeguarding’ agenda, real concerns arise about the nature, direction and scope of the reforms introduced by the Serious Crimes Act 2015. This workshop deliberated upon that very issue. It sought to provide a timely and necessary platform within which to challenge, consider and critique whether the reforms are, in fact, in the best interests of those they seek to protect. By bringing together academics, NGOs and survivors of the practice of FGM, this workshop aimed to provide a context within which concerns, gaps and problems can be identified from a diverse range of perspectives. It also provided a context within which the potential for research collaboration, at the University of Sussex, to further monitor and map the impact of recent legislative reforms to the law on FGM, as they bed down, can take place.

The workshop took place during the Autumn Term 2016.

Prevent Strategy

Dr Suraj Lakhani lead an initial roundtable meeting in September 2016 funded through the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, which brought together Prevent leads from Sussex police, East and West Sussex county councils, Brighton and Hove City Council, third sector organisations, and others. The aim of the meeting was to begin to explore the following issues:

  1. Identify, at the local level, the issues and concerns facing charities, NGOs, educational partners, etc. with the delivery of Prevent Strategy requirements.
  2. Recognising the specialist knowledge and skills of third sector agencies.
  3. Improving knowledge exchange between local level individuals, groups, agencies and providers by jointly identifying knowledge gaps/opportunities to develop.

The roundtable is the basis for a developing programme of research and engagement in this area. Anyone with an interest in contributing to this project, from within or outside the University, should contact Dr Suraj Lakhani at