Monday, 17 November 2008

Accidental Lawbreaking

Another break from Socialism 2008 reports (there are 3 more in the works). I basically need time to write them so I'm publishing this that I'd written beforehand.

Can you break a law by accident? Conventionally, to be found guilty of breaking a law you are usual assumed to have wilfully or recklessly done an action which breaks a law. I’m not sure how this stands leaglly, but to me that assumes that you have knowledge in general that said act is illegal. What if you didn’t though?
Now obviously the vast majority of people know that murder is a crime, the exceptions being very young children, people with serious mental health issues etc. The same can be said for most major crimes. However, what about minor crimes - the potential is there for this to occur.
I wish to cite a few cases how this may happen based on fact. Firstly, the crime may be a very obscure one. This is especially possible given the explosion in criminal offences in recent years. Secondly, there is the case of crimes that relate to a specific area – bye-laws for example could be broken by someone who is not from the area where that bye-law applies to. Thirdly there are the infamous ASBOs which have been used to blanket ban some activities – such as young people gathering in a certain area. Committing a crime in this instance can combine elements of the above – but ASBO’s aren’t criminal legislation although breaching them is a criminal offence.
So what could be done about this. One solution could perhaps be to make people aware of such laws – whether through general education in the case of obscure laws or signage in the case of specific area laws.
I think however, that a more pertinent question is whether we should criminalise these matters at all or whether they are better being dealt with informally. After all, our criminal justice system and prisons are completely clogged up. But I don’t mean by issuing on the spot penalties or administrative penalties to deal with such problems – that method is an essentially arbitrary one which is open to massive abuse. We really need a social approach to dealing with such minor offences rather than a criminal justice one who’s main effect seems to be criminogenic.


Kaiser said...

No, we need to build more prisons! Wahoo! Social justice!

Hey, why do people not want to live near prisons? I can never figure that out. I mean, it's not like the criminal's gonna stick around. People are weird.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

we don't need more prisons - they tend to make the problem worse (i've posted loads on why).

However, I can understand why people don;t want to live near a prison - I'm from Wakefield where there's a fairly secure prison located and when someone escapes people do become very fearful.
I honestly don't know whether people stay around - I would assume they'd probably go to faminly or a friends if they can - that maybe near or it maybe not.