Crime and Crime Statistics

  • David Taylor
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


In a formal sense, the law derives from a variety of sources including custom, court precedents, royal prerogative and legislation. Acts of Parliament, and judicial interpretations of those acts, along with the common law are the major formative influences. However, such an approach leaves much unanswered about the evolution of the criminal law and the relationship between the law and society. It is tempting to argue that the law is grounded in an absolute morality that transcends time and place. There are a number of acts, notably murder but also including certain forms of theft, which have been condemned throughout time and across widely differing societies. This suggests that certain actions are seen to be intrinsically wrong and, as such, are universally criminalized. Thus Durkheim, in The Division of Labour in Society, argued that ‘the totality of beliefs and sentiment common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system… one may call it the collective or common conscience’. He continued that ‘an act is criminal when it offends strong and defined states of the collective conscience’.1


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    E. Durkheim, The Division of Labour in Society cited in P. Harris, An Introduction to Law, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989, p. 242. D. Garland, Punishment and Modern Society: a study in social theory, Oxford University Press, 1994, chaps 2 & 3.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    A. H. Manchester, A Modern Legal History of England and Wales, 1750–1950, London, Butterworths, 1980, p. 191.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    D. Hay, ‘Property, authority and the criminal law’, in D. Hay, P. Lindeburgh, J. G. Rule, J. G. Thompson and C. Winslow, Albion’s Fatal Tree: crime and society in eighteenth-century England, Allen Lane, London, 1975.Google Scholar
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    S. Petrow, Policing Morals: the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office, 1870–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    K. S. Williams, Textbook of Criminology, London, Blackstone Press, 1991, p. 19.Google Scholar
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    J. J. Tobias, Crime and Industrial Society in the Nineteenth Century, London, Penguin, 1972, p. 25.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Rob Sindall, Street Violence in the Nineteenth Century, Leicester University Press, 1990, chap. 2.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    To say the crime rate is artificially made is not the same as saying it is arbitrarily made. To the contrary, the distinction made between serious crimes and others is a deliberate one which gives important insights into the values of society. See K. Bottomly and K. Pease, Crime and Punishment: Interpreting the Data, Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1986, p. 3.Google Scholar
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    The best introduction to nineteenth-century criminal statistics is V. A. C. Gatrell and T. B. Hadden, ‘Criminal statistics and their interpretation’, in E. A. Wrigley (ed.), Nineteenth-Century Society: essays in the use of quantitative methods for the study of social data, Cambridge University Press, 1972. See also V. A. C. Gatrell, ‘The Decline of Theft and Violence in Victorian and Edwardian England’, in V. A. C. Gatrell, B. Lenman and G. Parker (eds), Crime and the Law: A social history of crime in Western Europe since 1500, London, Europa, 1980; D. Philips, Crime and Authority in Victorian England, London, Croom Helm, 1977, chap. 2.Google Scholar
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    L. Radzinowicz and Roger Hood, The Emergence of Penal Policy in Victorian and Edwardian England, Oxford University Press, 1990, pp. 818–24.Google Scholar
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  13. 31.
    H. Perkin, The Origins of Modern British Society, 1780–1880, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969, pp. 162, 167–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 35.
    J. Davis, ‘Prosecutions and their context: the use of the criminal law in later nineteenth-century London’, in D. Hay and F. Snyder (eds), Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750–1850, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989, p. 399.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    E. Dunning, P. Murphy and J. Williams, The Roots of Football Hooliganism: an historical and sociological study, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988.Google Scholar
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    J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: the regulation of sexuality since 1800, London, Longman, 1989.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Taylor 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Taylor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HuddersfieldUK

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