Offences Against The Person Act 1861

2700 words - 11 pages

There has been much discussion on the Offences against the person act
(OAPA) 1861. Many see the act as outdated and clumsy, its wording
unclear and as being difficult to explain and prosecute under. The
OAPA is used in 100,000 prosecutions every year. The Law Commission
has attacked the OAPA for creating constant legal argument and delay
because of unclear wording and wasting thousands of pounds in
taxpayer's money in appeals. Both the Law Commission and the
Government have looked at possible reforms for the act in order to
improve its position in English Law. The 1861 Act is widely criticised
for being archaic and unclear, it is in urgent need of reform. It is
hoped that after the change have been made that the statute will be
able to be used more effectively and efficiently.

The criticisms of the OAPA have been around for several years. Many
lawyers and judges have expressed difficulties in using the act and
there have been Law Commissions set up to look into the act itself.
Jack Straw has described the act as "out-moded and unclear Victorian
legislation"[1] The wording used in the act is now frequently used in
everyday language which has led to differences in meaning and problems
in interpreting the statute. Words such as Grievous Bodily Harm and
Actual Bodily Harm are widely used, however this does not mean that
the offences are easily understood or effective in dealing with
violent behaviour. Some lawyers have even argued that the state of the
OAPA leads to unnecessary and expensive appeals because of the
decisions on questions of law.

Criticism is made often on the way in which the offences themselves
are worded. The language used reflects the period in which the act was
passed and is often out-dated or old-fashioned. In some cases the
words used are open to interpretation, which can lead to conflicting
decisions based on the meaning of a single word. There is no clear
statutory definition of assault or battery, this means that it is
often left to a judge to decide his own meanings of the words and
apply them in a case. This could lead to injustice as he may decide
more strict meaning than is widely accepted as a definition. With the
more serious offences the words are often antiquated and in some cases
misleading for example "assault" and "maliciously". This is because it
is an old piece of legislation, and the vocabulary used in 1861 has
evolved to have different meanings in modern England. The wording has
also lead to a gap in the law, with, in certain cases defendants
getting off a crime, which in terms of common sense he is guilty of.
For instance if man in the street threatens to kill you it would be
seen as assault. But if he shouts that he is going to kill you
tomorrow in the eyes of the law that is not an assault, even though
any reasonable person can see...

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