The changing contours of the criminal law

Slapper, Gary (2007). The changing contours of the criminal law. Journal of Criminal Law, 71(2) pp. 95–98.



The criminal law is sometimes accused of being applied disproportionately against the weaker and poorer elements of society. It is true that what seem to be large-scale offences are often unprosecuted. If a crime is big enough it can cease to be seen as a crime. Thus, in an old proverb, if you steal a chicken you become despised as a chicken thief whereas if you steal a Kingdom you become a King. The idea is also reflected in the observation of Honoré de Balzac that 'Laws are spider webs through which big flies pass and the little ones get caught' (La Maison Nucingen, 1838). The largest scale crimes can be committed by agencies of government. There is an argument for criminalising some sorts of organisational omission to act that result in death.

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