Source: (2008) In Arie Freiberg and Karen Gelb, Eds., Penal Populism, Sentencing Councils and Sentencing Policy. Cullompton, Devon UK: Willan Publishing. Pp. 31-44

This chapter intends to address three aspects of these developments. First, what is it that is meant by the term "Public opinion"? This is of considerable importance as there is a large gab between the findings of social scientific public opinion research and more volatile impressions of public mood, usually based on newspapers headlines or the like: it will be argued that it is the latter that politicians usually have in mind when they speak to the public expectations in this area. Secondly, what is the sociological significance of all these invocations of the public and exhortations to judges and policy-makers? It will be argued that these are symptomatic of a new axis of power which has come into play and which significantly reorganizes both the terms of penal debate and who is allowed to contribute to this. Thirdly, what consequences does this have for understanding policy development and the input of the general public, or at least those who claim to speak on its behalf? By reference to current developments in New Zealand, it will be argued that popular commonsense can now become a privileged driver of policy: but at the same time, in the more emotive context in which penal policy is now decided, strategic use of scandal is one way to undermine its influence. Scandal should not be understood as the exclusive property of the law and order lobby. (Excerpt)