How accountable is Britain?

Will McMahon
Monday, 11 May 2015

In 2013 the Centre held a joint conference with the University of Liverpool entitled 'How Corrupt is Britain?'. The event focused on corruption in policing, government and public institutions, and in the financial and corporate sectors. Professor David Whyte, who collaborated with us on this event, recently edited a book of the same title which further develops the core themes of the conference with a series of expert contributions that detail the breadth and depth of corruption endemic to the upper echelons of British society.

Building on the success of the conference, and the commissioning of the book by Pluto Press, we decided to look at another institutional form of social harm: the violence resulting from the activities of the British state, public bodies and private corporations. A conference, 'How Violent is Britain?', followed in May 2014. The day was one of those rare events that had most of the audience gripped from start to finish. Some of the content was very difficult to hear, and a small number of attendees left, one saying to me ‘I agree, but what are we going to do about it?’.

That is a good question. Despite a veritable tidal wave of revelations in recent years, state and corporate corruption and violence have simply not featured as issues worthy of discussion during the recent general election campaign. One reason for this may be that it is not immediately clear how we can hold large institutions, whether public or private, to account for behaviours that lead to social harm to individuals or on a mass scale.  The issues can either feel too large and complex to get to grips with or too individual and specific, for example the death of an individual at the hands of the police, to gain sufficient traction in public policy.

It seems difficult, and sometimes impossible, to hold powerful institutions and individuals, and individuals with specific powers, to account for the harm they might have caused. The process can be delayed, like the Hillsborough Inquiry, for decades, or become lost in a warren of legal argument fostered by highly remunerated counsel, as in the case of the Chilcott Inquiry. For the most part impunity seems almost guaranteed, whether by the passage of time, the defensive activities of large bureaucracies and insurance firms, legal process, the Official Secrets Act, or in some cases even dementia diagnoses or death. Yet, if we are to live in a society where holding powerful individuals and organisations to account for socially harmful activities is possible, then this is a nut that advocates of socially just solutions to social harm are going to have to crack. 

This is the rationale for the event being held in London on 19 June, ‘Challenging state and corporate impunity: Is accountability possible?’, by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool. It will bring people together from a range of organisations to discuss how it is becoming more difficult to hold state and corporate institutions to account for abuses of power and the social harm they cause. It will also provide a space to think strategically about how academics and activists can work together to challenge state and corporate power. The speakers are all experts in their field, but just as crucial will be the workshops that follow which will discuss whether accountability is possible and if so, how?

If you want to take part in this day then please register.

Book: How Corrupt is Britain?

Criminal Justice Matters 98: How Violent is Britain?