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Artist's Impression of Lady Justice, Old Bailey

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The Criminal Justice Theory Blog is the initiative of Dr Liat Levanon (Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College, London) and Dr Mark Dsouza (Faculty of Laws, University College London). It aims to make freely available short but carefully constructed arguments about interesting issues in the theory and philosophy of criminal justice, broadly conceived.

Each post on this blog is reviewed by the editors to ensure that high quality content is pitched at a level that is accessible to an audience of generalist lawyers, law students, and law-curious folk.

You can comment on each post in the box right at the bottom of the page. Comments are moderated to keep content accessible and friendly.

Latest Posts

Community sentences on a continuum with imprisonment: Electronic monitoring and unpaid work requirements

by Virginia Mantouvalou and Hadassa Noorda

In this post, we argue that electronic monitoring and unpaid work as part of community sentences should be seen as being on the same continuum as imprisonment, and that they have key features that can make them as restrictive as imprisonment. Therefore, safeguards that apply to imprisoned people should also be extended to those serving community sentences. These safeguards can make community sentences compatible with values that criminal justice should embrace.

Culpability, Rational Capacity, and Psychosis

by Claire Hogg

The dominant way of understanding the exculpatory pull of psychotic illness in terms of rational incapacity. Broadly, the argument is that if D was experiencing psychosis at the time of acting, then D did not have the rational capacities that are a precondition for criminal responsibility. In this post I argue that this analysis cannot always tell the full story. I illustrate this by discussing cases involving persons who believed themselves to be doing the morally necessary thing in the circumstances that they deludedly believed to exist.

The Authority to Punish in a Non-Ideal World

by Hend Hanafy

One of the traditional ways of explaining how the state’s authority to punish can be reconciled with individual autonomy, is by reference to democracy as a mediating factor. But over half of the world’s population lives in non-democratic systems. So traditional penal theory, with its focus on retributive or consequential justifications for punishment, pays inadequate attention to the way in which political governance interacts with the authority to punish. In its political context, punishment is not only a response to criminal wrongdoing, or a solution to problems of mutual cooperation; it is also the crucial means for the powerful to impose the rules that control individuals’ lives. This is evident in authoritarian states where criminal law and punishment constitute the main tools of social and political control, backing the authority’s claims of dominance and ensuring the continuation of the autocrat in power. Or so I argue in this post.

Acts, Omissions, and Remark-able Criminal Conduct

by Mark Dsouza

In this post, I argue against distinguishing between Acts and Omissions in both, decisions about what conduct tokens to make the basis of new crimes, and the interpretation of the conduct elements of existing criminal offences. Instead, I argue, that the criminal law is interested in voluntary conduct that belies a contextually salient expectation, whether that conduct be commissive, or omissive. Thinking of the conduct element of the actus reus of a criminal offence this way helps us simplify our analysis of offences, and limit the scope of seemingly overbroad offences.

Constitutive luck, Criminality, and Distributive Justice

by Dr Ambrose Y.K. Lee

In this post, I argue that once we properly recognize the presence of luck in one being the kind of person that one is, then we should see criminality as a proper object of concern for distributive justice, just like natural disadvantages or contingent social circumstances in the economic and political domains. This implies that the criminal justice system has a responsibility to try and eliminate the disadvantage of criminality by (a) tackling the causes of criminality and (b) promoting rehabilitation and reintegration.

Retributivism and Value Pluralism

by Re’em Segev and Ofer Malcai

In this post, we argue that despite the initial plausibility of this common view, one cannot be both, a retributivist, and a value pluralist, in one’s theory of criminal punishment. We argue that the value of desert is unique in that it dispels other values, such that they do not count even pro tanto. Thus other values cannot be balanced against desert – desert simply displaces those values so that they do not count.

Liability and Immigration Enforcement

by Mollie Gerver

In this post, I argue that since states often inflict serious harm when enforcing their immigration laws, we must ask when immigration enforcement is ethically justified. I argue for using the moral principle of liability to answer this question in respect of individual instances of immigration enforcement. Given that the criminal law has reason to track morality, when enforcement is inconsistent with the principle of liability, I argue that the government has at least one reason to discontinue this enforcement.

Can You Know the Unknown?

by Alexander Greenberg

In this post, I consider a tempting argument against criminal negligence liability, which runs: ‘criminal negligence liability is inappropriate because we cannot take precautions against risks of which we are unaware.’ I argue that it rests on a crucial ambiguity, and that clearing it up reveals this argument to be flawed. While not all opposition to criminal negligence rests on this ambiguity, some does, and so dispelling it helps us identify bad arguments against criminal negligence.

Belief and Respect in Legal Trials

by Liat Levanon

In this post I suggest that our obligation to respect other humans is the source of our obligation to use rules of evidence that are capable of eliminating errors when trying to identify truths (in criminal trials, and beyond).

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