, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 59-65
Date: 04 Aug 2007

Liberalism and the Changing Character of the Criminal Law: Response to Ashworth and Zedner

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Ashworth and Zedner outline seven changing aspects of the criminal law––namely, the greater use of diversion, fixed penalties, summary trials, hybrid processes like ASBOs, strict liability, incentives to plead guilty and preventive orders. They criticise these changes insofar as they diverge from what they call ‘a liberal conception of criminal justice’ which ‘emphasises both the purpose of the criminal law in providing for censure and punishment and the need to respect the autonomy and dignity of individuals in the criminal process’.

Ashworth and Zedner (2007), subheading ‘Introduction’.

According to this liberal model, criminal law is an institution that responds to responsible individuals, punishing them only for serious wrongs they performed as responsible individuals. Few of the seven changes listed escape criticism when held up to the requirements of that liberal model. The only changes compatible with this model are perhaps (1) the use of diversion for young people and for minor