Public Wrongs and Private Wrongs
There are a set of wrongs that are normatively distinct as ‘criminal wrongs’, and yet, there is disagreement as to ‘the basic features of criminal liability’ that explain this normative distinctiveness. The only consensus has been that criminal wrongs are ‘public wrongs’. For some, they are public wrongs in the sense that they infringe the values and interests for which the community has a shared and mutual concern. For others, they are public wrongs in the sense that they are the wrongs that public officials are responsible for punishing. A third view is that they are public wrongs in the sense that there are procedural advantages of having public officials empowered to address the wrongdoing. I argue here that the first two views are analytically inseparable: the considerations that explain the wrongs that merit social prohibition are the same considerations that explain the censuring and punitive response of the criminal law. I also argue here that, contrary to the third view, the powers of public officials in criminal law procedures follow from, rather than explain, the concept of a crime being a public wrong. Procedural advantages can explain how criminal wrongs are public wrongs, but they cannot explain why criminal wrongs are public wrongs.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Keywords: Criminal law; Criminal liability; Public law; Classifying offences
Research Type: Journal Article