Criminal Law Act 1967
|Long title||An Act to amend the law of England and Wales by abolishing the division of crimes into felonies and misdemeanours and to amend and simplify the law in respect of matters arising from or related to that division or the abolition of it; to do away (within or without England and Wales) with certain obsolete crimes together with the torts of maintenance and champerty; and for purposes connected therewith.|
|Citation||1967 c. 58|
|Territorial extent||Part I - England and Wales, Part II & III - United Kingdom|
|Royal assent||21 July 1967|
|Commencement||Part I - 1 January 1968, Part II & III - 21 July 1967|
|Repealed by||Section 2 rep. by Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984|
Status: Current legislation
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
The Criminal Law Act 1967 (c.58) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made some major changes to English criminal law, as part of wider liberal reforms by the Labour government elected in 1966. Most of it is still in force.
Several of the Act's provisions were adopted, word for word, for Northern Ireland by the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 (c 18) (NI) and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 (c 28) (NI). The Republic of Ireland similarly adopted some of its provisions, again word for word, in the Criminal Law Act 1997.
The Act has three parts. Part I abolished the distinction between felony and misdemeanour and makes consequential provisions. Part II abolished a number of obsolete crimes. Part III contains supplementary provisions.
Part I – Felony and misdemeanour
This Part implements the recommendations made by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in their seventh report.
Section 1 abolished the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. Originally, all crimes in English law were categorised in a hierarchy of treason, felony, and misdemeanour, each with their own rules of procedure and evidence. (Treason had been brought in line with felony in 1945.) The 1967 Act abolished felonies and stated that all former felonies would be tried according to the rules of procedure and evidence that applied in trials and pre-trial hearings for misdemeanours, whether the felony had been committed before or after the Act was passed. This also had the effect of abolishing the offences of misprision of felony and compounding a felony (but these offences were replaced with new ones in sections 4 and 5). Although all offences were now misdemeanours, the maximum penalties were not affected.
Section 2 created a new category of arrestable offences, since powers of arrest had depended on whether an offence was a felony or a misdemeanour. Arrestable offences were defined as crimes for which the maximum sentence for an adult was five years or more. The section set out the circumstances in which a citizen or a constable could arrest somebody without a court warrant (police powers were more extensive than a civilian's).
Section 2 was repealed and replaced with section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which was broadly similar to section 2 but also applied to some less serious offences. Section 24 was supplemented by a section 25 which created new powers (for constables only) to arrest those suspected of "non-arrestable offences" in certain circumstances. Sections 24 and 25 were controversially amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which abolished the difference between arrestable and non-arrestable offences and substituted one set of police arrest powers for all offences, irrespective of the maximum sentence. Citizens' arrest was confined to indictable offences. This change took effect from 1 January 2006.
Section 3 replaces the common law rules on self-defence in English law, such as the duty to retreat. It simply requires that any force used must be "reasonable in the circumstances". It is still in force today and states:
3. — (1) A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.
(2) Subsection (1) above shall replace the rules of the common law on the question when force used for a purpose mentioned in the subsection is justified by that purpose.
(Further provision about when force is "reasonable" was made by section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.) The definition of what constitutes a 'crime' was clarified under R v Jones (Margaret), R v Milling et al  UKHL 16, which stated it covered any domestic criminal offence under the law of England and Wales.)
Section 4 created a new offence of assisting anyone who had committed an arrestable offence, "with intent to impede his apprehension or prosecution". This replaced the rules on accessories after the fact in felony cases. The penalty for this offence is linked to the penalty for whatever offence the original offender has committed (between three and ten years' imprisonment).
Section 5(1) created a new offence which replaced misprision and compounding of felony. It stated that a person who has information which might lead to the prosecution of an arrestable offence and who agrees to accept consideration (other than [victim] compensation for the offence) in exchange for not disclosing that information to the authorities is liable to two years' imprisonment.
- When the concept of an "arrestable offence" was abolished, sections 4 and 5(1) were amended so that they now apply to any "relevant offence", which is defined in identical terms to the original 1967 definition of arrestable offence. This significantly reduced the scope of these offences from the wider 1984 definition, which had been steadily extended over the years.
- A person may not be prosecuted for these offences without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or a Crown prosecutor.
Section 5(2) creates the offence commonly known as "wasting police time", committed by giving false information to the police "tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry". The maximum sentence is six months. A person may not be prosecuted for this offence without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or a Crown prosecutor.
Section 5(5) provides that the compounding of an offence other than treason is not an offence otherwise than under section 5 of the Act. This means that:
- The common law offence of compounding treason is preserved.
- The common law offence of compounding a felony, and (if it existed) the common law offence of compounding a misdemeanour, were abolished on 1 January 1968. (In Working Paper No.72, at paragraph 43, the Law Commission suggest that the latter offence might "perhaps" have existed, but offer no explanation.)
Consequential repeals on s.5(5) (s.10(2) and Sch 3, Pt III)
Section 6 deals with the procedures for arraignment and verdict. In particular, it deals with alternative verdicts (or alternative pleas). When a defendant is found not guilty of the offence he is charged with but is found guilty of a less serious offence (or he wishes to plead not guilty to the more serious offence but guilty to a lesser one), the section allows a verdict or plea of guilty to the lesser offence to be entered even though the offence may not be explicitly charged on the indictment. It also states if a defendant refuses to enter a plea then it defaults to not guilty.
Part II – Obsolete crimes
This Part implements recommendations of the Law Commission.
Section 13 abolished the common law offences of champerty and barratry, challenging to fight, eavesdropping, and being "a common scold or a common night walker". It also repealed the offence of praemunire (attempting to appeal to a foreign power, e.g. the pope, on legal matters), which had survived on the statute books since 1392. It preserved the common law offence of embracery (which was later abolished by the Bribery Act 2010). It also repealed the Blasphemy Act 1697.
Schedule 4: Repeals
The Act repealed the following acts, among others:
- Criminal Law Revision Committee, Seventh Report: Felonies and Misdemeanours (Cmnd 2659)
- The Law Commission, Proposals to Abolish Certain Ancient Criminal Offences (Law Com 3) HTML
- The Law Commission, Proposals for Reform of the Law relating to Maintenance and Champerty (Law Com 7) HTML
- The Criminal Law Act 1967, section 11(1)
- The remainder of the Act extends to the United Kingdom because the contrary was not specified.
- The Criminal Law Act 1967, section 12(1)
- The remainder of the Act came into force on receiving royal assent because no other date was specified.
- Transitional provisions were contained in section 12.
- "Regina v Jones (Margaret), Regina v Milling and others: HL 29 Mar 2006". swarb.co.uk. 4 December 2018. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
- Full judgement (.pdf)
- Parliament of Northern Ireland. Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968, from www.legislation.gov.uk.