Ordinary people could be made into criminals, say solicitors

The Law Commission is looking into the huge explosion of over 3,000 criminal offences that have been created in the past 13 years, as these ‘trivial offences’ could be making ordinary people into criminals. There are thousands of new offences that have been created in regulatory areas such as food safety, farming and retailing.

In a consultation paper commissioned on theses minor red tape offences remarked that “ordinary people and businesses are being subjected to ever increasing numbers of what, in all probability, will turn out to be illusory or empty threats of criminal prosecution.” The very nature of a criminal offence has a stigma attached to it of being a serious wrongdoing, and this stigma is then attached to members of the public who have not committed a serious wrongdoing.

“If low-level criminal offences are rarely used there is a compelling case for removing them from the statute book if civil measures will do as good a job,” it said. Professor Jeremy Horder, the Law Commissioner who headed the review, said: “Civil penalties are quicker and cheaper to enforce but they are not a soft option. People who breach regulations will often discover that civil fines can be higher than the penalties imposed by the courts.”
An example of one of these trivial offences is the crime of selling or offering as a prize, any animal, including a goldfish to anyone under the age of 16. The news was filled with stories of the 66 year old pet-shop owner who sold a goldfish to a teenager and was punished for it. Joan Higgins had to wear an electronic tag, pay a fine of £1,000 and obliged to comply with a night-time curfew.

But why have so many new criminal offences been created? Well one reason is the huge expansion in Government quangos; there are 60 regulators and 486 local authorities that have the power to make criminal law and that can amount to a lot of criminal offences.

The majority of criminal offences were introduced through secondary legislation on the request of these quangos and agencies. Secondary legislation, unlike primary legislation does not require intense scrutiny or debate, and so offences could come into effect with relative ease.
The commission remarked that  “businesses and individuals should generally not be penalised by the criminal law if they have made real efforts to comply with laws requiring, say, the provision of information.

“The commission proposes that, where criminal offences are created in regulatory contexts, they should require proof of fault elements such as intention, knowledge, or a failure to take steps to avoid harm being done or serious risks posed.”


About the Author:
Antonia Torr is a graduate from the University of Leicester, with a degree in Law with European Union Law. Having enjoyed writing from a young age, Antonia has received numerous awards that act as a testament to her quality of writing. If you are struggling to find Top Solicitors near you, please visit our website at http://www.qualitysolicitors.com
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