, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 315-332
Date: 19 Jan 2011

Coming Clean About the Criminal Law

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Abstract

This paper addresses three doctrinal phenomena of which it finds evidence in English law: the quiet extension of the criminal law so as to criminalise that which is by no means an obvious offence; the creation of offences the goal of which is not to guide potential offenders away from crime; and the existence of offending behaviour which is not itself thought to justify arrest or prosecution. While such phenomena have already been criticised by other criminal law theorists, this paper offers a critique to which little attention has yet been paid. It argues that the existence of these phenomena has been concealed from public view: that the organs of state have encouraged the belief that they are no part of English law. The paper then argues that it is high time the state came clean. The state owes its people answers for the imposition of the criminal law: it must account for the creation and enforcement of any given criminal offence. When the state misleads its people about the criminal law’s scope, goals and enforcement, it refuses to provide those people with the answers they are owed.