Simplification of Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency
Public consultation open until 30 June 2010
The Law Commission are consulting on the catch-all laws that allow police and the authorities to make it up as they go along. They have dismissed more fundamental limitations on the law claiming that case law has tightened up its application. Try arguing case law with a policeman bullying you over a minorly insulting t-shirt.
Obviously catch-all laws are useful to the authorities, and are unlikely to be removed from their armory (as they put it), but at least they could offer some sort of statutory compensation when police and the authorities are found to be misusing the laws for their own convenience or even maliciousness.
Anyway the Law Commission have at least suggested improvements to some of the more grand scale injustices incorporated into the current common law mess.
The Law Commission write:
Is it fair for a person to be liable for an offence that can carry a life sentence, if they didn’t intend to cause harm and weren’t reckless?
In a consultation, the Law Commission is asking whether the common law offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency are in need of reform.
Recent case law has tightened up the application of these historically broad and unclear areas. But the Law Commission is suggesting that clarity is still required around individuals’ intention to cause harm.
It is currently possible for someone to be guilty of causing public nuisance or outraging public decency without intending, or even being reckless as to, the effect of their actions on others. And the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
In line with its aim to ensure that the law is fair, modern and accessible, the Law Commission is seeking feedback on the suggestions that:
- clearly defined fault elements should be introduced to the offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency,
- the prosecution must prove that the accused intended that their actions would cause damage or outrage, or were aware of the possibility and recklessly went ahead, and
- the offences should be given proper statutory definitions.
Professor Jeremy Horder, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: For the law to be fair, it must be readily understood by ordinary people. We believe that the reforms we are suggesting would bring these offences into line with other crimes of similar gravity, make the law fairer and help people understand when they may be at risk of breaking the law.