Plenary Session - Social Constructions of Crime in a Liberal Society

The plenary session will take place on Tuesday 5th April 2016 from 17:15-18:45 in the Faraday Lecture Theatre.


The theme of Social Constructions of Crime in a Liberal Society continues to be of contemporary socio-legal importance. Each year there is a new piece of criminal justice legislation, with terrorism seeming to be the current Government’s primary concern and the prioritisation of tackling risk to avoid harm. This has led to, for example, the creation of new obligations on schools and universities to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism, and powers to seize passports from people thought to be leaving the UK to engage in terrorism-related activities and to exclude British citizens suspected of being involved in terrorism-related activity abroad from the UK. Yet whilst we see moves such as this which broaden ideas of what constitutes criminal behaviour and may be perceived as an attack to liberal values, elsewhere we see bids to decriminalise other behaviour, such as medicalised assisted dying, gaining increasing momentum. The time is ripe to examine contemporary constructions of crime and, in so doing, to explore and re-examine connections and disconnections between risk, criminalisation, liberalism and human rights. This leads to questions such as: How can changing constructions of crime be balanced with human rights concerns? Is risk-based thinking compatible with liberalism? Can the criminalisation of subjects such as pornography be defended according to liberal values? Is the medical exception that exists in relation to some crimes defensible on liberal grounds? Does and should international criminal justice reflect the values of liberalism?

Chair and Speakers:

Suzanne Ost, Lancaster University (Chair)

Donald M. Ferencz, Middlesex University

Nicola Lacey, London School of Economics

Alexandra Mullock, Manchester University

Toby Seddon, Manchester University

Papers and Speaker Bios

Donald M. Ferencz, Middlesex University, ‘Criminalizing the Illegal Use of Force in Global Affairs: 70 Years Since Nuremberg, and Illegal War-Makers Still Cannot be Tried For Their Crimes’

Abstract: This paper will provide a review of the debate over granting the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. In 1946, the Nuremberg judgment branded aggressive war-making as “the supreme international crime,” and the judgment's legal principles were unanimously affirmed by the United Nations. Yet 70 years later, the crime of aggression remains beyond the reach of the International Criminal Court. Although efforts to activate the Court’s aggression jurisdiction appear close to fruition, the prospect of activating such jurisdiction has both supporters as well as detractors, and the debate over points of contention may well continue for the foreseeable future.

Speaker biography: Don was born in Nuremberg, Germany, where his father, Ben, had served as a prosecutor at the American-led Subsequent Proceedings. He earned a BA in Peace Studies at Colgate University in New York. He holds degrees in education, law, business, and taxation, leading to an eclectic career as school teacher, adjunct professor of law, and two decades as a consultant and senior tax executive. In 1996, he and his father established The Planethood Foundation, to educate toward “replacing the law of force with the force of law”. Don was a non-governmental advisor to the International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties’ working group on the crime of aggression through the ICC Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda, in 2010. He subsequently organized a virtual working group of professionals coordinating efforts to advance the ratification and adoption of the Kamapala amendments on aggression (known as the Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression). He is currently affiliated with Middlesex University School of Law and is a Research Associate at the Oxford University Faculty of Law’s Centre for Criminology.

Nicola Lacey, London School of Economics, ‘Constructing Responsibility without Blame’

Abstract: In a series of recent papers, Hanna Pickard and I have argued that there is a strong moral, political and practical case for distinguishing between the concepts of responsibility and blame, and for redesigning certain aspects of the criminal prosecution, trial and sentencing process so as to mark a clear distinction between affectively blaming on the one hand and holding to account on the other. In this presentation, I focus specifically on criminal law’s conception of responsibility, asking how it might be constructed – or reconstructed - so as to minimise the probability of its lending weight to stigmatisation as a feature of the criminal process. In this context, I argue in particular that the recent resurgence of a form of character-based criminal responsibility, in a distinctive, hybrid form which associates the presentation of risk with criminal character, is an unfortunate development from the point of view of an ideal of responsibility without blame.

Speaker biography: Nicola Lacey is School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy at the London School of Economics. From 2010 until September 2013 she was Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, and Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the University of Oxford. She has held a number of visiting appointments, most recently at Harvard Law School and at New York University Law School. She is an Honorary Fellow of New College Oxford and of University College Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is an elected member of the Council of Liberty, and a Trustee of the British Museum. She served as a member of the British Academy’s Policy Group on Prisons, which reported in 2014.

Nicola's research is in criminal law and criminal justice, with a particular focus on comparative and historical scholarship. Over the last few years, she has been working on the development of ideas of criminal responsibility in England since the 18th Century, and on the comparative political economy of punishment. She is currently working, with David Soskice, on American Exceptionalism in crime, punishment, and social policy; and, with Hanna Pickard, on the philosophy and psychology of punishment. Nicola also has research interests in legal and social theory, in feminist analysis of law, in law and literature, and in biography. Her most recent monograph is In Search of Criminal Responsibility: Ideas, Interests and Institutions (Oxford University Press 2016).

Alexandra Mullock, Manchester University,.‘The medical exception to the criminal law: what is ‘proper medical treatment’ in end-of-life care?’

Abstract: The medical exception removes activity, such as surgery, that would otherwise be treated as criminal from the remit of the criminal law. Certain contentious procedures, such as abortion, have come to be regarded as ‘proper medical treatment’, yet other contentious treatments, such as helping a patient to die, have remained resistant to liberalisation. Indeed, doctors and other health professionals may be at greater risk of prosecution than lay people in this matter, while the doctrine of double effect in end-of-life care has become a troubled and disputed notion. This paper attempts to illuminate the legal and ethical minefield over what is ‘proper medical treatment’ in end-of-life care.

Speaker biography: Dr Alexandra Mullock is a Lecturer in Medical Law at the University of Manchester. Alex completed her PhD at Manchester in 2011 within the AHRC funded project on the Impact of the Criminal Law on Health Care Practice and Ethics and her research has primarily focused on end-of-life law and criminal issues in health care law.

Toby Seddon, Manchester University, 'Deconstructing Drugs: A legal-regulatory perspective'

Abstract: The trade in, and consumption of, illicit drugs has become perhaps the archetypal ‘wicked problem’ of our time – complex, globalised and seemingly intractable – and presents us with one of the very hardest legal and policy challenges of the twenty-first century. Somewhat surprisingly, the central concept of a ‘drug’ remains under-theorised and largely neglected by critical socio-legal and criminological scholars. Drawing on a range of primary archival material and secondary sources, this paper sets out a genealogy of the concept, showing how it was assembled a little over a century ago out of diverse lines of development. It is argued that the drug label is an invented legal-regulatory construct closely bound up with the global drug prohibition system. Many contemporary features of the ‘war on drugs’ bear traces of this genealogy, notably the ways in which drug law enforcement often contributes to racial and social injustice. To move beyond prohibition, radical law and policy reform may require us to abandon the drug concept entirely.

Speaker biography: Toby Seddon is Professor of Criminology in the School of Law at the University of Manchester. He has been researching drugs and drug policy for over 20 years. His current focus is on developing a theoretical and conceptual framework for rethinking global drug control.