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Essay: Legal history on criminal attempts (project outline)

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  • Published: March 18, 2021*
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  • Legal history on criminal attempts (project outline)
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Introduction

As cited in Macbeth-II, “The attempt and not the deed confounds us” , such was quoted by Shakespeare and may be appropriate to the law of attempt too. The law of criminal attempt falls in the category of inchoate crimes, most of the time known as ‘non-consummate’ or ‘anticipatory’ crimes . The law of attempt is not easy to recognise or define and is hence noted for its complexities. The criminal law of attempt does not punish merely completed crimes but also the conduct of falling short completion or execution of an event . The law of attempt remained rather mysterious and tarnished for its convolutions.

The substance of this project is concerned with the scope, if there is any, of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 which has simplified the range of application of the law of attempts in the English criminal law system. Through my project, the aim shall be to go through the history of the criminal attempts along with its development through the common law, but also, cover the improvements which the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 has brought with regards to the actus reus and mens rea towards offences. It worth mentioning that, throughout different case law or commentaries, it appears at first sight to me that, the law seems to be too narrow vis-à-vis attempts in some areas and too wide in others, such reveals major discrepancies within this area of law.

Similarly, through further analysis and in-depth research, I shall go through the law’s deficiencies and recommendations for improvement. The purpose of this project shall be to identify the problems and ascertain the enhancements brought to the current law of attempt. Such shall be done through the scrutiny of leading attempt case law such as Anderton v Ryan , Geddes or Gullefer , at the same time, we shall go through the commentaries done within judgments, commission reports or articles.

Eventually, with the aim to question whether reforms are essential and what recommendations would be the most suitable one to the existing law, the last part of this project, shall illustrate the different proposals for reforms brought or attempted at different levels towards the existing issues. Such is done by going through the identified uncertainties of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and discrepancies upon judgements made. With the ultimate goal to guide our research towards a substantive opinion and conclusion, Law Commission reports, and other resources abstracts in this area of law shall be thoroughly assessed and scrutinised.

History and early Law of Attempts

Before we go through the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, it is imperative that we go back in the past. A cursory historical review of the law of criminal attempt may thus be valuable in the formulation of this problem. Criminal attempt is well-known to have been manifested for its numerous deficiencies in early English law. There is not the least proposition of the theory or a general doctrine indeed one might hardly assume any. However, there seems to have been no final outcomes of liability for wrongdoing that fell short of the major crimes.
Before the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, such was alleged that it was a crime to attempt to commit a criminal offence . What was less straightforward and opened the doors to doubts was at which stage the respondent became guilty of attempting to commit a crime. One might need to lay down tests which came under the common law to conclude whether the defendant act could be held to be an attempt.
The fears threatening harmony and well-being in a society like that of the sixteenth-century in England must have incited the court of Star Chamber to punish a large number of likely harms through legal maxims, hoping to tweak anticipated viciousness until 1640, predominantly used for severe offences of national security. Initially, the authoritarianism of attempts is found as an exercise of criminal policy in the measures adopted by the Star Chamber. The English common law did not have any law of criminal attempt till the 18th century.

The influence of the Star Chamber is evident on common law in this regard. The doctrine of an attempt made in the case of Rex v Scofield, a case of attempted arson that was finally framed in Rex v Higgins, which concerns the solicitation to steal goods. Divergent opinions could be identified in the Scofield\’s case where a clear conduct was said to be a criminal attempt but, on the other hand, in the case of Higgins, it was established to be an offence on a less obvious behaviour of the respondent. Such variance between cases clearly shows a lack of certainty and loopholes within this area.

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