Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 167–186

Theorizing Criminal Law Reform

Original Paper

Abstract

How are we to understand criminal law reform? The idea seems simple—the criminal law on the books is wrong: it should be changed. But 'wrong’ how? By what norms 'wrong’? As soon as one tries to answer those questions, the issue becomes more complex. One kind of answer is that the criminal law is substantively wrong: that is, we assume valid norms of background political morality, and we argue that doctrinally the criminal law on the books does not embody those norms. Another kind of answer is that the criminal law as it stands presupposes certain empirical facts, and yet those facts do not hold. Traditionally, criminal law reform has been informed by both these answers. Analytical theorists examine doctrine for its conceptual structure, and social scientists examine the actual workings of the criminal justice system. This tidy picture is, however, challenged by social constructivist accounts of the criminal law. They challenge the stability and conceptual purity of doctrine, and they challenge the objectivity of social science. On the basis of these challenges, they undermine the ambitions of traditional criminal law reform, and argue that the only reforms to the criminal law that matter are politicized ones—that criminal law reform is pointless unless it serves the interests of the marginalized and the dispossessed. It seems undeniable that in some sense our perceptions of crime in our society are indeed moulded by social forces, and that crime does not exist independently of the social structures and processes that help to define and control it. But why should those insights have the implications for our understanding of criminal law reform that they are alleged to have? How could it follow from those insights that criminal law reform either becomes radicalized or valueless? The aim of this paper is to show that what can legitimately be taken from the emphasis on the social constructedness of crime does not require wholesale abandonment of the traditional picture of criminal law reform, even though it may require some modifications of that picture.

Keywords

Criminal law reform Analytical legal philosophy Critical criminology Criminalization Criminal law doctrine Social construction of crime Crime and power 

References

  1. Altheide, D. L. (1992). Gonzo justice. Symbolic Interaction, 15, 69–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashworth, A. (2000). Is the criminal law a lost cause? Law Quarterly Review, 116, 225–256.Google Scholar
  3. Bilionis, L. D. (1998). Process, the constitution, and substantive criminal law. Michigan Law Review, 96, 1269–1334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Comack, E. (1999). Theoretical excursions. In E. Comack (Ed.), Locating law: race/class/connections. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. Duff, R. A. (1996). Criminal attempts. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Duff, R. A. (2003). Inclusion, exclusion and the criminal law. Policy Futures in Education, 1, 699–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Duff, R. A. (2005). Criminalizing endangerment. In R. A. Duff & S. P. Green (Eds.), Defining crimes: essays on the special part of the criminal law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Duff, R. A., & Green, S. P. (Eds.). (2005). Defining crimes: essays on the special part of the criminal law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Feinberg, J. (1984–88). The moral limits of the criminal law: Four volumes. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Fraser, N. (1981). Foucault on modern power: empirical insights and normative confusion. Praxis International, 1, 272–287.Google Scholar
  11. Hart, H. L. A. (1961, 1994). The Concept of Law. In P. A. Bulloch and J. Raz (Eds.) (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Henry, S., & Milovanovic, D. (1994). The constitution of constitutive criminology: A postmodern approach to criminological theory. In D. Nelken (Ed.), The futures of criminology?. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Horder, J. (2004). Excusing crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hulsman, L. H. C. (1986). Critical criminology and the concept of crime. Contemporary Crises, 10, 63–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Husak, D. (2002). Limitations on criminalization and the general part of the criminal law. In S. Shute & A. P. Simester (Eds.), Criminal law theory: doctrines of the general part. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Husak, D. (2004). The criminal law as last resort. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 24, 207–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Husak, D. (2008). Overcriminalization: The limits of the criminal law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kelman, M. (1981). Interpretive construction in the substantive criminal law. Stanford Law Review, 33, 591–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kennedy, D. (1976). Form and substance in private law adjudication. Harvard Law Review, 89, 1685–1778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lacey, N. (1995). Contingency and criminalization. In I. Loveland (Ed.), Frontiers of criminality. London: Sweet and Maxwell.Google Scholar
  21. Lacey, N. (2000). Philosophical foundations of the common law: Social not metaphysical. In J. Horder (Ed.), Oxford essays in jurisprudence: Fourth series. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lacey, N. (2001). Responsibility and modernity in criminal law. Journal of Political Philosophy, 9, 249–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lacey, N. (2002). Legal constructions of crime. In M. Maguire, R. Morgan, & R. Reiner (Eds.), The oxford handbook of criminology (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lacey, N. (2006). Analytical jurisprudence versus descriptive sociology revisited. Texas Law Review, 84, 945–982.Google Scholar
  25. Lacey, N., Wells, C., & Quick, O. (2003). Reconstructing criminal law: Critical perspectives on crime and the criminal process (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. McCrudden, C. (2006). Legal research and the social sciences. Law Quarterly Review, 122, 632–650.Google Scholar
  27. Pound, R. (1910). Law in books and law in action. American Law Review, 44, 12–32.Google Scholar
  28. Rose, N. (1999). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Simester, A. P., & Shute, S. (2002). On the general part in criminal law. In S. Shute & A. P. Simester (Eds.), Criminal law theory: Doctrines of the general part. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ward, E. (2005). Informational persons and our criminal law. Research paper. Ottawa: Law Commission of Canada.Google Scholar
  31. Zedner, L. (2004). Criminal justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of British Columbia OkanaganKelownaCanada

Personalised recommendations