Traditional accounts of criminal justice tend to assume that there exists a system with a collection of seamless processes, which begins with intervention by the police and ends in the punishment of the offender. Such accounts are useful to demonstrate how the institutions of the criminal justice system work but their assumption that the process operates in an objective fashion with one common aim and a seamless ‘system’

is unfounded. Since Herbert Packer’s famous account 1 of how the criminal justice process of any country can be evaluated by considering whether its processes are committed to crime control or due process far more attempts have been made to try and understand the underlying values within any criminal justice system. In England and Wales more recent academic commentary has concerned itself with the inherent confl icts and dilemmas that are faced by those who practise within the criminal justice process. 2 These practitioners face competing values every day in their work and an appreciation of this encourages any reader to recognise how each practitioner within each institution has its own ‘working credos’ 3 . With such variations within each institution it is diffi cult to see how there can be one seamless process with a single aim. The criminal justice system is best understood therefore as a series of processes with many of its practitioners working with different values. This could suggest chaos but in fact it is at worst organised chaos because the machinery of the institution tends to drive through a particular course and practitioners often work beneath the radar to preserve their own working credos.