Teaching the Elements of Crimes

The Teaching of Criminal Law, Routledge, 2017 Forthcoming

Posted: 12 Sep 2016

Date Written: 2017


The criminal law of England and Wales, as with other jurisdictions, is made up of many thousands of offences. Therefore, no more than a small sample could ever be taught within a criminal law module. The task for the academic is to teach this small subset of offences so as to provide students with a wide and contextual understanding of criminal law in general and a mechanism through which to understand and analyse other specific offences in the future. Both aspects are vital to any criminal law module, but it is the mechanism aspect that will be the focus of this chapter.

Our mechanisms for understanding and analysing criminal law are often referred to as the elements of crimes. Essentially, we aim to deconstruct whole criminal offences into their constituent elements. We do this in order to identify patterns between offences (often referred to as general principles), encourage consistent analysis between offences, provide a vocabulary for commenting on specific parts of offences, provide a structure for independent analysis of future offences, and so on. However, the identification and use of elements within the criminal law can also be problematic, potentially complicating rather than facilitating analysis and debate.

This chapter explores the teaching of criminal elements over five sections. The first discusses current practice in teaching, textbooks, and in court judgments, highlighting problems of incoherence and inconsistency. The second examines the potential for a universal structure of element analysis and how this can be used in teaching. The third highlights the potential advantages of this, with the fourth highlighting some potential problems. Finally, the fifth provides an overview of element analysis in other common-law jurisdictions. The discussion makes use of law and psychology literature to explain and support a number of the points made.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Pedagoge

Suggested Citation

Child, John, Teaching the Elements of Crimes (2017). The Teaching of Criminal Law, Routledge, 2017 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2836660

John Child (Contact Author)

Birmingham Law School ( email )

Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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