Crimes, Public Wrongs, and Civil Order



Duff RA & Marshall S (2019) Crimes, Public Wrongs, and Civil Order. Criminal Law and Philosophy, 13 (1), pp. 27-48.

The idea that crimes can usefully be understood as ‘public wrongs’, and that this can generate a plausible principle of criminalisation, has found some support in recent years; it has also been subjected to some sharp criticism. This paper aims to sketch the most plausible version of that idea, and to show how, once properly explained, it is not vulnerable to those criticisms. After a brief defence of the negative principle, that we may not criminalise conduct that does not constitute a public wrong, it explains the positive principle, that we have reason to criminalise conduct if it constitutes a public wrong, by drawing an analogy between criminal law and codes of professional ethics, and by appealing to the idea of civil order, as the normative structure of a polity—a structure that criminal law helps both to constitute and to sustain. Four objections are then met: that this account implies an unacceptable relativism; that it distorts the reasons that bear on criminalisation; that it cannot make room for those who do not identify themselves with the polity in which they live; and that it implies an unrealistically demanding conception of what is required for a polity to exist.

Public wrong; Criminal law; Political community; Civil order

Criminal Law and Philosophy: Volume 13, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2019
Publication date online24/02/2018
Date accepted by journal24/02/2018

People (2)


Professor Antony Duff
Professor Antony Duff

Emeritus Professor, Philosophy

Professor Sandra Marshall
Professor Sandra Marshall

Emeritus Professor, Philosophy