Back to RJ Archive

Informal Criminal Justice Systems in Northern Ireland

Knox, Colin
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) ESRC Violence Research Project, Economic and Social Research Council, United Kingdom. Downloaded 17 May 2004.

The so-called ‘informal or alternative criminal justice system’ has evolved since 1969 and is a range of punitive measures against individuals ‘who violate some community norm, as defined by the paramilitary grouping’. The ‘alternative system’ is a graduated scale of sanctions escalating from threats or warnings, through curfew, public humiliation, exile and ‘punishment’ beating, to knee-capping or in exceptional circumstances, ‘execution’. These informal systems have different motivations in loyalist and republican areas. In republican areas the prime target for ‘punishment’ is young people involved in ‘anti-social behaviour’ – car theft, joyriding, house-breaking/ burglary and vandalising their communities. Loyalist paramilitaries, on the other hand, tend to engage in ‘punishment’ attacks to maintain internal discipline amongst their own members and to ‘police’ their own areas. They also ‘punish’ members of rival groups in disputes over turf. Within working-class communities there is still strong support for paramilitary ‘punishments’ given the absence of a legitimate or adequate policing service, rising levels of ‘anti-social behaviour’ and petty crime, and the perceived failure of the formal criminal justice system. Government agencies, in particular statutory bodies, currently either minimise or remain indifferent to paramilitary ‘punishments’. The net result is a disjointed response at both inter-sectoral and inter-agency levels. This project interviewed local community members, men and women subjected to paramilitary ‘punishment’, members of political parties as well as voluntary and state agencies. In addition, comparative fieldwork (interviews with individuals and focus groups) was carried out in South Africa. (Abstract from ESDS Qualidata, UK Data Archive, University of Essex,


AbstractCourtsEuropePolicePrisonsRJ and Community DisputesRJ in SchoolsStatutes and Legislation
Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now