Law of Crimes I
Q1. Explain the concept of crime and essential ingredients to constitute crime with the help of appropriate examples. A1.
INTRODUC T ION
Crime, we are told, is today a salient fact, an integral part of the risks we face in everyday life. In both scholarly and public opinion crime is associated with harm and violence; harm to individuals, destruction of property, and the denial of respect to people and institutions. It is clear that we face pressing problems of a practical and scholarly nature in understanding crime. But we lack agreement on the most basic question, namely what is crime? This battle over deﬁnitions, of categorizing events as crimes or other things, is no tame affair. It is clear that there has been a great deal of variation in history and across different jurisdictions as to what has been deﬁned as a crime. Some of the major ﬁgures in history have been termed criminals by a State process that was considered legally valid at the time. In ancient Greece, Socrates (d. 399 BC)—who we remember through Plato’s dialogues as one the greatest philosophers of all time—was condemned by a court for the crime of corrupting the youth of Athens with his teachings. He died by taking hemlock after refusing the aid of his supporters to free him. In Roman-occupied Palestine, Jesus Christ was condemned and cruciﬁed along with ‘two common thieves’; Martin Luther King was imprisoned for his role in the 1960’s US civil rights movement. While in prison he wrote his Letter From Birmingham Jail, an essay that stands as one of the classic writings on civil disobedience (in which he argues that one has a duty to disobey unjust laws, but also to abide by the lawful processes of the State including any punishment so ordered). Likewise, Nelson Mandela was convicted for activities against the apartheid State of South Africa and served 26 years in prison before his release. He subsequently became the ﬁrst democratically elected President of South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi who deservedly is called the father of our nation was considered as a criminal by the English and imprisoned many a time. Are we to call individuals like these ‘criminals’? Or do we say that it was a mistake to have ever called them that? • In 1781 The Zong was a slave ship owned by a large Liverpool slaving company employed on the well-tried route from Liverpool to West Africa and thence with a cargo of slaves to the Caribbean. On 6 September it sailed from West Africa with a cargo of 470 slaves bound for Jamaica. Twelve weeks later, closing on its destination, the Zong had already lost more than 60 Africans and seven of the 17-man crew because of dysentery brought on by severe overcrowding. The Zong’s captain ordered that sick slaves should be thrown overboard both to preserve dwindling supplies of water and to allow the shipping company to claim their loss against insurance. One hundred and thirty-one slaves were thrown overboard and drowned, even though it had rained and there was plenty of water. None of the sick sailors were thrown overboard. The Zong actually went to trial as an insurance case. The boat owners had claimed insurance on the dead slaves as they said they were simply ‘property’ that had been thrown overboard out of necessity. The original jury agreed and ordered the underwriters to pay insurance on them, but the underwriters appealed and we do not know if any insurance money was ever paid out. Meanwhile, a group of people around a prominent individual called Glanvill Sharp tried to get the authorities to prosecute the crew for murder, but they were unsuccessful. The system did not want this to be called a crime (see Gearey, Morrison, and Jago, 2009, chapter 2). As Walvin (1992) argues, if this event had been called ‘murder’, it would have unpicked the legality of the whole slave system and the international trade in it. As a result people around Glanvill Sharp got together and formed an anti-slavery and abolitionist movement...
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