William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Vol. 4 (1769)
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law
July 20, 2013
"Blackstone's Criminal Law: Common-Law Harmonization and Legislative Reform," in Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, ed. Markus Dubber (Oxford UP, 2014), 61-78
This chapter discusses the fourth volume of Blackstone's Commentaries (1769), asking what contribution this volume makes to English criminal law. Issues addressed include the general structure of Blackstone's discussion, the relation between Blackstone's treatment and those of his precursors (especially Sir Matthew Hale and William Hawkins), the historical and literary range of Blackstone's references, the nature of his legal reform agenda, and his conception of the book's audience. The discussion begins by considering how criminal law figured in Blackstone’s effort to provide an integrated account of the legal system. Next, the chapter addresses questions of intention, will, and capacity, to highlight some differences between Blackstone’s aims and the expectations that a modern reader might bring to a general overview of criminal law. The final two sections deal with Beccaria’s influence on Blackstone’s recommendations for criminal law reform, and Blackstone’s preference for legislative change rather than reform of the common law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 29
Keywords: Blackstone, criminal law, legal history, common law, eighteenth century, punishment, preventive justice
Date posted: July 22, 2013 ; Last revised: November 16, 2014
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