When looking to identify the basic ingredients of criminal responsibility, reference is standardly made to a voluntary act requirement (VAR). We blame a defendant (D) for what she has done or (perhaps) failed to do where such doing or failing to do is proscribed by law; we do not punish mere thoughts or character. However, despite the continued appeal of the VAR in abstract principle, the precise definitions and restrictions entailed within it are not always clear, and its usefulness in preventing inappropriate criminalization is openly (and in many cases correctly) challenged. Principally, and crucially, the VAR has received sustained attack in recent years from critics within the philosophies of action, highlighting its descriptive and normative shortcomings. It is contended that such criticism is misplaced. This article provides defense to a stripped-back definition of the VAR, distinguishing the general definition of action in philosophy from the definition of action within the criminal law, and seeking to identify and preserve a doctrinally workable model of the latter.
Defense of a Basic Voluntary Act Requirement in Criminal Law from Philosophies of Action
Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, UK. Contact J.J.Child@bham.ac.uk, (+44)121 4147075. John Child is a Reader in Criminal Law and Co-Director of the Criminal Law Reform Now Network, specializing in criminal law doctrine and theory.
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J.J. Child; Defense of a Basic Voluntary Act Requirement in Criminal Law from Philosophies of Action. New Criminal Law Review 27 November 2020; 23 (4): 437–470. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/nclr.2020.23.4.437
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