Reinventing the Night-Watchman State?

University of Toronto Law Journal, Vol. 60, p. 425, 2010

19 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2010

See all articles by Malcolm Thorburn

Malcolm Thorburn

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 20, 2010


This article raises a principled objection to the privatization of certain core police services. Whereas most of the literature critical of privatizing security services has focused on the negative consequences of doing so (corruption, waste, etc.), the argument here focuses squarely on the standing of private parties to perform police services. According to an important strain of liberal political theory, certain tasks are assigned to the state not because it is deemed to be more efficient at delivering those services but simply because such services must be rendered by a party that acts in the name of the polity as a whole and not in the name of some narrower private interest. The author argues that all those policing functions - such as arrest, search, and detention - that require criminal law justification (because they involve conduct on the part of officers that is generally criminally prohibited) are of this nature. The article also summarizes the different dimensions of the larger privatization debate and traces the development of the debate about legitimate policing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Suggested Citation

Thorburn, Malcolm Bruce, Reinventing the Night-Watchman State? (October 20, 2010). University of Toronto Law Journal, Vol. 60, p. 425, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Malcolm Bruce Thorburn (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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