Criminal Law by Jonathan Herring

By Jonathan Herring

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There is no point in making an activity illegal if it would be almost impossible for the police to catch people doing it, or if the only Introduction to criminal law Ill way to do so would be to give police unacceptably wide powers. This may be one reason why adultery is not illegal. Linked to this is administrative efficiency. This is particularly important in the present political climate of seeking to cut public expenditure. The definition of criminal offences should aim to be as clear and readily comprehensible as possible to ensure the swift, but fair, conviction of those deserving of punishment.

For example, Lord Hobhouse in the House of Lords case of Rinks* [2000] 3 WLR 1590 stated: An essential function of the criminal law is to define the boundary between what conduct is criminal and what merely immoral. Both are the subject of the disapprobation of ordinary right-thinking citizens and the distinction is liable to be arbitrary or at least strongly influenced by considerations subjective to the individual members of the tribunal. To treat otherwise lawful conduct as criminal merely because it is open to such disapprobation would be contrary to principle and open to the objection that it fails to achieve the objective and transparent certainty required of the criminal law by the principles basic to human rights.

However, there is little agreement where exactly the course should be. Two areas where the dispute has been particularly fierce will now be mentioned briefly by way of example, but we will discuss the law's approach to these topics in more detail later. 1. Liability for indifference. The question here is how to deal with a defendant who fails to foresee that his action will cause harm. Take the example of a person who lights a match next to a haystack, which catches fire. The pure objectivist would argue that as a reasonable person would realise that such an act might lead to the burning of the haystack, the defendant should be liable for arson.

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