History of English criminal law

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English law did not originally make a distinction between criminal and civil proceedings.

The first signs of the modern distinction between crimes and civil matters emerged during the Norman conquest of England in 1066.[1] The earliest criminal trials had very little, if any, settled law to apply. However, the civil delictual law was highly developed and consistent in its operation (except where the King wanted to raise money by selling a new form of Writ).

The development of the state dispensing justice in a court only emerged parallel to or after the emergence of the concept of sovereignty. It was only in the 18th century that European countries began operating police forces. From this point, criminal law had the mechanisms for enforcement.

Common law offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

The following common law offences once existed, but are now statutory, part of other statutory offences, or completely abolished.

See also criminal libel for general information about the common law libel offences listed above.

Offences held no longer to exist or never to have existed[edit]

Offences against the person[edit]

Fatal offences[edit]

Extant offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Sexual offences[edit]

Extant offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Non-fatal non-sexual offences[edit]

Offences against property[edit]

Extant offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Firearms and offensive weapons[edit]

Forgery, personation and cheating[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

See forgery:

See personation:

(Both repealed by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005)

See cheating:

Offences against the State or Crown or Government and political offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Harmful or dangerous drugs[edit]

Offences against religion and public worship[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Offences against the administration of public justice[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Offences held no longer to exist or never to have existed[edit]

Public order offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Offences against public morals and public policy[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Protection of children and vulnerable adults[edit]

Protection of animals and the environment[edit]

See Cruelty to animals#United Kingdom and Environmental crime

Road traffic and motor vehicle offences[edit]

Participatory offences[edit]

Abolished offences[edit]

Classification of offences[edit]

Abolished classes[edit]


Abolished defences[edit]


Abolished proceedings[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Hale, Matthew. Historia Placitorum Coronæ (History of the Pleas of the Crown) (1736).
  • Stephen, Sir James Fitzjames. History of the Criminal Law of England (1883).
  • Radzinowicz, Sir Leon. A History of English Criminal Law and Its Administration from 1750. 5 volumes. 1948 to 1990.
  • John Hostettler. A History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales. Waterside Press. 2009. Google Books
  • John Hamilton Baker. An Introduction to English Legal History. Third Edition. Butterworths. 1990. Chapters 28 and 29.
  • John Hamilton Baker, "Pleas of the Crown" (1978) 94 Selden Society annual volumes 299
  • J M Kaye et al. "The Making of English Criminal Law" (1977 to 1978) Criminal Law Review
  • John G Bellamy. Criminal Law and Society in Late Medieval and Tudor England. Alan Sutton. 1984. Google Books
  • Edward Powell. Kingship, Law, and Society: Criminal Justice in the Reign of Henry V. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1989. Google Books
  • John H Langbein. Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany France. Harvard University Press. 1974. Google Books. Lawbook Exchange. Clark, New Jersey. 2005. Google Books
  • J S Cockburn (ed). Crime in England 1550-1800. Meuthen. 1977. Google Books
  • J. M. Beattie. Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800. OUP. 1986. Google Books
  • David Bentley. English Criminal Justice in the 19th Century. Hambledon Press. 1998. Google Books
  • John G Bellamy. The Criminal Trial in Later Medieval England. University of Toronto Press. 1998. Google Books
  1. ^ see, Pennington, Kenneth (1993) The Prince and the Law, 1200–1600: Sovereignty and Rights in the Western Legal Tradition, University of California Press
  2. ^ Abolished by the Offences against the Person Act 1828
  3. ^ Abolished by section 11(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971
  4. ^ a b c d e Abolished by section 32(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1968
  5. ^ Abolished by section 13 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981
  6. ^ a b Abolished by 73(a) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009
  7. ^ a b Abolished by the Criminal Law Act 1967
  8. ^ a b c d Abolished by section 9(1) of the Public Order Act 1986
  9. ^ Abolished by 73(b) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009
  10. ^ Abolished by 73(c) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009
  11. ^ a b Abolished by section 79(1) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
  12. ^ Abolished by section 59 of the Serious Crime Act 2007
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Abolished by the Criminal Law Act 1967, section 13(1)(a)
  14. ^ a b Abolished by section 17(1)(a) of the Bribery Act 2010
  15. ^ a b Abolished by section 13(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977
  16. ^ Abolished by section 6(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981
  17. ^ Abolished by section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1977
  18. ^ The statutory provisions that created this offence were repealed by the Theft Act 1968: Griew, Edward. The Theft Acts 1968 and 1978. Fifth Edition. Sweet and Maxwell. 1986. Paragraph 2-01 at page 12.
  19. ^ Repealed by paragraph 95 of Schedule 4 to, and Schedule 17 to, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
  20. ^ R v Newland [1954] 1 QB 158, 37 Cr App R 154, CCA: held, no longer to exist, if it ever had
  21. ^ Shaw v DPP, H.L.(E.) 1960 Archived 2017-06-19 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ DPP v Withers [1975] AC 842, HL: Held not to be an offence known to law
  23. ^ Repealed by section 17(3) of, and Schedule 2 to, the Bribery Act 2010

External links[edit]