Do you find criminal law to be impenetrable? If you do, you are in esteemed company, because the UK’s top judge agrees with you.
Criminal Law Overhaul
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has said this week in a speech to the judiciary that overhauling the criminal law is long overdue. He told London’s Lord Mayor and fellow top judges that the UK needs a “single document that sets out the nature of criminal conduct”.
Echoing the eternal criticism of those of us that have to grapple with Stones Justices Manual, Archbold, and numerous sentencing guidelines, he said that 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.”
Urging simplification of this was long overdue, according to Lord Thomas, although (heaven forbid) he sought to reassure lawyers that this was not a shorthand way to do away with the necessity for their services:
“No one would suggest that we should all be our own physicians, even if what some describe as Dr Google is the modern neurotic’s best friend”.
But he does consider overhaul necessary when the Bar produces fewer specialist advocates.
“As expertise is increasingly diverted elsewhere, the criminal law will need to be recalibrated accordingly”.
As such, the codification of criminal law could be at the centrepiece of new work undertaken by the Law Commission.
Is an Overhaul of Criminal Law necessary?
Advocates and solicitors are likely to welcome it, as would the judiciary themselves and no doubt increasing numbers of unrepresented defendants. Is it likely to happen? Given that it is something that has been called for for many years, perhaps we should not hold our collective breath. But if the government is to spend the next 5 years navigating Brexit and we have a new Prime Minister chomping at the bit to get us out of the ECHR, who knows what they will throw in to the mix. Whether there will be the civil service hours available to draft it is another matter altogether.
Alex Preston – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyer
Written by Alex Preston. Alex specialises in the defence of serious crime and is recommended in the 2015 edition of the Legal 500 for Crime. The editorial praises her “accurate analysis and exemplary client skills” as part of the Crime team at Olliers.