Criminal Law


Criminal law may be broadly conceived as that body of law which defines criminal offenses, establishes procedures for the apprehension, charging, and trial of suspected offenders and which fixes penalties and modes of treatment applicable to convicted offenders. All organized societies display a body of rules, no-fins or
customs tending to protect the security of individual interests and the survival of the group. The distinction between the criminal law and other forms of social control, however, is ordinarily not sharply drawn in primitive societies. Even in modern Anglo-American law the distinction between criminal law and tort law defies wholly satisfactory definition.

Crime scene in Criminal law

For most practical purposes, however, it is sufficient to say that a tort is a private injury and that the purpose of a tort suit is primarily to obtain compensation from the wrongdoer for injuries sustained by the victim. A crime, on the other hand, even though it may (and ordinarily does) involve injury to some individual, is conceived as an offense against the state and is punishable as such.

Thus the same conduct may render the actor liable in tort to make compensation to the victim for injuries inflicted and, at the same time, answerable to the state in a criminal proceeding. Tort law and criminal law may
also be distinguished by the procedures employed and the sanctions imposed.

Sources of the Criminal Law (I)

  1. England

    • The modern criminal law of England and of the United States derives from the English common law of crimes. This body of law had its origins in judicial decisions which, by the middle of the 13th century, were applied throughout the realm and were thus ‘common’ to it. Even in the medieval period, however, legislation played an important role in the development of the English law of crimes. In some instances, legislation was confined to matters of procedure or the stipulation of penalties, leaving definition of the elements of the offenses to judicial precedents. Thus, as late as the 1960s there was no statutory definition of murder in English law. Even the Homicide act, 1957, confined itself to such matters as eliminating certain types of conduct from earlier judicial definitions of murder and specifying the types of murder punishable by death. in other instances, however, parliament has created offenses wholly unknown to the common law.
      Examples include the embezzlement acts of the 18th century and the spate of statutory offenses enacted in increasing numbers since the first quarter of the eight century to achieve objectives of economic regulation or public welfare. England has consistently rejected all efforts towards comprehensive legislative codification ‘of its criminal law, even though the movement for codification has been supported by the prestige of such names as Jeremy Bentham and Sir James F. Stephen.
  2. United States

    • . Although the criminal law of the United States clearly reveals its derivation from the English common law, the adoption of the common law was neither complete nor uniform in the American colonies. The early criminal legislation of Massachusetts, for example, was little influenced by English precedents, being derived in major part from old Testament sources. In Newyork, the influence of English precedents was earlier and more strongly felt. The famous ‘Quaker code’ brought by William Penn to Pennsylvania and Delaware in the closing years of the 17th century was remarkable for its leniency in that only one capital offense, murder, was recognized. Although Penn’s code was operative for only a short period, it is important as anticipating by over a century the humanitarian impulses later reflected in the Anglo-American law.

Throughout the 18th century an increasing number of lawyers trained in the English law practiced in the colonies, and their influence strongly supported recognition of common-law principles by colonial courts and legislatures. By the time Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries were published (1765-69), the common law of crimes was generally adopted. After the American Revolution, the states incorporated into their law the English common law as it existed prior to a specified date (either 1607, when the settlement at Jamestown was founded, or 1776, the date of the Declaration of Independence). The adoption of the common law was made subject to the constitution of the United States and of the particular state and only insofar as compatible with the conditions of the new nation. These limitations encouraged the rejection of certain archaic feature of the common law of crime, particularly those relating to outmoded and degrading forms of punishment.