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Monday, 3 January 2011

What is crime? - recordable offences?

I know I am feeling better, because I have an urge to write something that probably is no interest to anyone but myself. I went on a short trip to Thailand and Vietnam just before Christmas and managed to get home just before the snowfall landed on Heathrow. Unfortunately I managed to eat something that upset my stomach quite dramatically and after that I picked up a virus from IBM. Not a computer virus - a man flu virus via my son in law who works for IBM. That slowed me down a bit but unlike the previous bug it did not stop me eating so I did enjoy Christmas, thanks for asking, but I have not felt up to doing the work I was planning. Thus the absence of posts.

Now what has got my mental juices flowing again? Its the problem of defining "crime".

The first thing to say that I am approaching this from my knowledge of the English and Wales legal system. There are many other legal systems out there...................

In our legal system there is a fundamental principle that is even more basic than "innocent till proven guilty" which is often misquoted and misunderstood -you are guilty the second you commit an offence but for the purposes of the criminal justice system you are regarded as innocent until due legal process proves you guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The principle I am referring to is that a crime has to be defined (usually) by legislation. The criminal law assumes everything is legal that is not specifically enshrine in Common Law, defined as a criminal offence by Act of Parliament,  or arguably a body permitted by Act of Parliament to create offences - thus local bylaws. Criminal Law has its own courts, rules and sanctions.

Travelling in parallel with Criminal Law but very much on its own tracks is Civil Law. Civil Law has all sorts of weird and wonderful things but it does not have offences and crimes. It can be said that criminal law deals with absolutes that if put into questions should have a yes or no answers. Civil Law on the other hand deals with gradations whose answers are more fuzzy - maybes and depends are better answers. And of course the burden of proof in civil cases is on the balance of probabilities that reflects these differences.

But I digress. What I am trying to show is that with a legal system such as the English and Wales one the broadest legal definition of crime is an offence under criminal law. This of course includes parking offences, speeding fines, littering, drunkeness in a public place and other offences that we generally regard as being committed by normal members of the public, not criminals.

To have a criminal record you have to have been convicted of a recordable offence. Once you have been convicted of a recordable offence you are allocated a unique number (and letter) which in the days when the record was a paper file in the Criminal Records Office at new Scotland Yard was known as a CRO number. That's why when you get charged with a recordable offence you have your fingerprints and photograph taken. Now in a more modern world the record is no longer paper it is computerised on the Police National Computer (PNC) and you are allocated with a PNCID instead of a CRO. There are of course still people with both. And nowadays DNA is also taken as an identification. Details of what are recordable offences are here. Recordable offences are basically offences that have a term of imprisonment as a sanction plus a number of specified offences.

Now this is the confusing bit; the official crime statistics - police recorded crime - is a system that is quite separate from the recordable offences discussed above and it is based on notifiable offences. But that is for the next post.

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