Codify all the criminal law, says the country’s number one judge

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By Katie King on

Your statute books may be about to get a lot thicker


The days of surfing LexisNexis and sniggering at R v Brown may soon be over, as the Lord Chief Justice has this week said the criminal law should be rearranged into one document.

In the midst of post-Brexit uncertainty, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd made the (rather out of the blue) recommendation that all criminal law should be available for viewing in a “single document”.

Speaking at a Mansion House black-tie do on Wednesday (justice secretary, Michael Gove, also making an appearance at the event) Cambridge-educated Thomas said:

[Criminal law] is contained in a maze of innumerable, to some, but of course not those who are at that court, impenetrable, statutes and common law developments over the centuries, which it is difficult to defend as entirely rational. It is in my view long overdue clarification and simplification.

It’s not a new idea. Everyone’s favourite philosopher Jeremy Bentham — the utilitarianism guy whose severed head was stolen by King’s College London students from University College, London in 1975 — famously pushed for the “recalibration of the criminal law” hundreds of years ago.

But why does the Lord Chief Justice, who is head of the judiciary, want to revisit this age-old reform proposal now?

Legal Cheek had hoped it was to stop local councillors like David Bretherton using legal loopholes to attempt to reintroduce public punishments, e.g. putting people in the stocks.

Unfortunately, Lord Thomas’s reasons are not quite as exciting; but there are a lot of them. The top judge says the development of a “modern code” is an “integral part of upholding the rule of law”, and would make an “excellent centrepiece” for the Law Commission’s upcoming programme.

A particular concern for the Lord Chief Justice, a former Essex Court Chambers barrister, is “increasing specialisation” at the bar. He thinks this:

…there are fewer advocates than previously who enter criminal practice — the days of the mixed practice are on the way out. There are fewer criminal specialists and, more importantly, fewer potential criminal specialists.

Whether this is down to the lack of a modern criminal code we’re not sure, but we would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about Lord Thomas’s proposals.

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