Report No. 29
41. Character of special statutes.-Such offences are better left to be dealt with by special and self-contained enactments which supplement the "basic criminal law". (We would, in this connection, like to quote the following observations of Stephen1:-
"Before undertaking either of these tasks I must endeavour to define what I mean by the Criminal Law. The most obvious meaning of the expression is that part of the law which relates to crimes and their punishment-a crime being defined as an act or omission in respect of which legal punishment may be inflicted on the person who is in default either by acting or omitting to act.
This definition is too wide for practical purposes. If it were applied in its full latitude it would embrace all law whatever, for one specific peculiarity by which law is distinguished from morality is, that law is coercive, and all coercion at some stage involves the possibility of punishment. This might be shown in relation to matters altogether unconnected with criminal law, as the expression is commonly understood, such as legal maxims and the rules of inheritance. A judge who wilfully refused to act upon recognised legal maxims would be liable to impeachment. The proprietary rights which are protected by laws punishing offences against property, are determined by the application of those laws. If there were no such crimes as theft, forcible entry, malicious mischief, and the like, and if there were no means of forcing people to respect proprietary rights, there would be no such thing as property by law.
This is no doubt a remote and abstract speculation. The principle on which it depends may be displayed by more obvious and important illustrations. It would be a violation of the common use of language to describe the law relating to the celebration of marriage, or the Merchant Shipping Act, or the law relating to the registration of births, as branches of the criminal law. Yet the statute on each of these subjects contain a greater or less number of sanctioning clauses which it is difficult to understand without reference to the whole of the acts to which they belong. Thus, for instance, it is felony to celebrate marriage otherwise than according to the provisions of certain Acts of Parliament passed in 1823 and 1837, and these provisions form a connected system which cannot be understood without reference to the common law on the subject. These illustrations (which might be indefinitely multiplied) show that the definition of criminal law suggested above must either be considerably narrowed or must conflict with the common use of language by including many parts of the law to which the expression is not usually applied."
1. Stephen History of the Criminal Law of England, (1883) Vol. I, pp. 1 and 2.
42. The observations of Stephen relating to summary offences may also be quoted1:-
"Such offences2 differ in many particulars from those gross outrages against the public and against individuals which we commonly associate with the word crime. It would be an abuse of language to apply such a name to the conduct of a person who does not sweep the snow from his doors or in whose chimney a fire occurs."
1. Stephen History of the Criminal Law of England, (1883), Vol. 1, p. 4.
2. The reference is to "summary of police offences".