Blackstone's Criminal Law: Common-Law Harmonization and Legislative Reform
Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, ed. Markus Dubber (Oxford UP, 2014), 61-78
29 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2013 Last revised: 1 Nov 2017
Date Written: July 20, 2013
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.
Keywords: Blackstone, criminal law, legal history, common law, eighteenth century, punishment, preventive justice
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