The UK is experiencing a proliferation of public sector institutional scandals. Following a succession of scandals involving the banking sector politicians’ expenses, state surveillance and phone-hacking by journalists, Britain’s public institutions—the BBC, the National Health Service, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, schools and colleges, local authorities and Parliament—have all been implicated in institutional child sex abuse scandals. The state’s historic response to public sector scandal—denial and neutralization—has been replaced with acknowledgement and regulation in the form of the re-vamped public inquiry.
In this article authors developed a process model of institutional scandal. They examined the reaction of the regulatory state to public sector scandal proliferation. Their aim has been to analyse the transforming nature, significance and impact of institutional scandals and the forms of regulatory governance to which they are giving rise. Scandals will always have an infotainment edge, but that does not make them trivial. By triggering public inquiries that might take years to complete, and naming multiple alleged offenders in the process, institutional scandal is transforming how justice is administered in the UK.
One by one, UK public institutions are being scandalized for corruption, immorality or incompetence and subjected to trial by media and criminal prosecution. The state’s historic response to public sector scandal—denial and neutralization—has been replaced with acknowledgement and regulation in the form of the re-vamped public inquiry. Public institutions are being cut adrift and left to account in isolation for their scandalous failures. Yet the state’s attempts to distance itself from its scandalized institutions, while extending its regulatory control over them, are risky. Both the regulatory state and its public inquiries risk being consumed by the scandals they are trying to manage.
Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin
Theorizing institutional scandal and the regulatory stateTheoretical Criminology 1362480616645648, first published on May 9, 2016 doi:10.1177/1362480616645648