Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 155–170 | Cite as

Public Wrongs and the Criminal Law

  • Ambrose Y. K. Lee
Original Paper


This paper is about how best to understand the notion of ‘public wrongs’ in the longstanding idea that crimes are public wrongs. By contrasting criminal law with the civil laws of torts and contracts, it argues that ‘public wrongs’ should not be understood merely as wrongs that properly concern the public, but more specifically as those which the state, as the public, ought to punish. It then briefly considers the implications that this has on criminalization.


Public wrongs Private wrongs Legal processes Punishment Compensation Criminalization 



This paper is part of a larger attempt to explore the theoretical foundations of criminalization, which in turn forms part of the AHRC-funded Preventive Justice Project (ID: AH/H015655/1). I am most grateful to the AHRC for funding this project, and to Andrew Ashworth, Lucia Zedner, Gemma Yim, Sarah Henderson, Alice Irving, Patrick Tomlin, Massimo Renzo, Matt Matravers, Antony Duff, Sandra Marshall, participants of the Criminal Law Discussion Group at University of Oxford and the Morrell Political Theory Workshop at University of York, for all their valuable comments on the various drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank the editor of Criminal Law and Philosophy, Michelle Dempsey, and the two anonymous reviewers for all their help and comments. Special thanks in particular to Andrew Dyson, for correcting my doctrinal understanding of civil law. Any remaining mistakes, of course, are mine alone.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for CriminologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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