Sources of Criminal Law and Classification of Offences

We will discuss two main sources of criminal law: statute and common law.

Some criminal offenses have been created over the years by case law. These offenses are called common law offenses. Murder is a common law offense, as is manslaughter.

These offenses have been defined by judges in previous cases, and the current definition of these offenses are still to be found in case law.

Other offenses are set down in statutes Acts of Parliament. These offenses are called statutory offenses. Examples include:

  • theft, which is charged contrary to section one of the theft Act 1968;
  • rape, which is charged contrary to section one of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and;
  • wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent, which is charged contrary to section 18 of the offenses Against the Person Act 1861.

The definitions of these offenses are found in the statute. Although, the elements of such offenses may be further defined by case law.

Occasionally, offenses are charged contrary to the statute. But the definition of the offenses found in common law. Examples include assault and battery, which are charged contrary to section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 but are defined in the case of Fagin vs. Metropolitan Police Commissioner 1969.

Indictable, only offenses are the most serious offenses and include murder, manslaughter rape, robbery and wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent. These offenses carry high penalties upon conviction, often with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. These offenses must always be tried in the Crown Court with a jury.

Summary offenses are the least serious offenses. They include driving offenses, assault, and battery. These offenses carry much lighter penalties, which may be anything from an endorsement on a driving license to a fine or a short term of imprisonment.

Summary offenses are tried in the magistrate's court without a jury. A defendant charged with. A summary offense does not have a right to trial by jury. Either way, offenses are offenses of medium seriousness where the facts of the particular incident will usually determine the severity of the offense. These include theft, assault, occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm burglary.

Where a defendant is charged with either an offense, he may be tried either in the Crown Court with a jury or in the magistrate's court without a jury.