, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 233-250
Date: 02 Feb 2007

Space, time and function: intersecting principles of responsibility across the terrain of criminal justice

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper considers the interpretive significance of the intersecting relationships between different conceptions of responsibility as they shift over space and time. The paper falls into two main sections. The first gives an account of several conceptions of responsibility: two conceptions founded in ideas of capacity; two founded in ideas of character, and one founded in the relationship between an agent and the outcome which she causes. The second main section uses this differentiated conceptual account to analyse and interpret certain aspects of the contemporary criminal law of England and Wales. In conclusion, the paper considers a number of hypotheses about what the evidence of certain shifts in the relationship between the three families of responsibility-conception can tell us about the current state and significance of criminal law among other systems of social governance.

Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory, London School of Economics. Parts of this paper are adapted from my ‘Character, Capacity and Outcome: Towards a framework for assessing the shifting pattern of criminal responsibility in modern English law’, in Markus Dubber and Lindsay Farmer (eds.) Modern Histories of Crime and Punishment (forthcoming, Stanford University Press). My thanks to the participants in the workshop ‘Modern Histories of Crime and Punishment’ held at the Buffalo Criminal Law Center and Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy in June 2005 and in the symposium on ‘Philosophy and the Criminal Law’ held at the British Academy in October 2005 for their constructive feedback; and in particular to Markus Dubber, Lindsay Farmer, Alan Norrie and Victor Tadros for comments and discussion.