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In its broadest sense, the criminal law refers to criminal procedure and evidence as well as substantive crimes. However, for the purposes of this section, we will be looking only at the narrower sense, being the substantive offences.

The domain of this area of law is in punishing those in our society who have committed crimes. Each ‘crime’ is specifically defined and the standard of proof and procedures required to prove an offences has been committed. Law-makers decide to make something illegal where it is deemed inappropriate or harmful for society.

Where individuals commit acts which break these crimes, they are punished by for their actions. This distinguishes the criminal law from the civil law, in that it can potentially involve imprisonment and the deprivation of the offender’s freedom. A criminal sentence can also include other punishments such as fines, community service or suspended sentences.

Why have a criminal law?

There are many ideas put forward as to why we punish individuals for doing certain things, including:

  • Punishment of the offender for their actions
  • Rehabilitation and education of the offender so that they do not break society’s rules in the future.
  • Using the offender as an example to deter the future commission of crimes.
  • Exacting retribution on behalf of law-abiding society for the illegal actions of the offender.

Some view the purpose of the criminal law as a mixture of all of these ideas. You can decide for yourself what you think the main purpose of the criminal law is and should be as you read through the case summaries.

Doctrines of Criminal Law

This section covers specific doctrines which apply to all criminal cases. These broad principles may apply regardless of the crime at issue.

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Homicide - murder

The classic definition of murder is provided by Sir Edward Coke in Institutes of the Laws of England (1797): “Murder is when a man of sound memory…

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