About Living Lawfully

The way that it works, for you to be found guilty of a crime, is basically this. The State – the prosecution – must first prove that you perpetrated the conduct in question; in other words, as a matter of fact, that you did the deed. Let’s say, for example, that you dumped oil at sea. The next essential thing the State must prove is that you had mens rea – translated from Latin this means ‘guilty mind’, and constitutes the intention to commit the crime. If the prosecution fails to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you had this frame of mind, then you will not be found guilty of the crime.

The recent Oscar Pistorius case brought into the public conscious the concept of dolus eventualis. Loosely translated from the Latin, this means that someone foresees the possibility that his conduct will have the particular consequence, but continues with it regardless. Then you are said to have mens rea, and will be criminally accountable just as if you had a premeditated direct intention.

Here is where it can get a bit tricky. Different crimes require different standards of mens rea before (a) the doing of the deed will result in (b) a criminal conviction. In Lawful Living, we are dealing with statutory offences, and the position is not always the same. Sometimes, the country’s legislature (i.e. Parliament) considers that the particular crime is one where your mental frame of mind does not matter. In other words: if, as a matter of fact, you did the deed, and even if you had no idea that what you were doing was prohibited, you will be guilty. Selling diamonds without a permit might be a good example. This is what is called ‘strict liability’. However, a significant proportion of the statutes referenced in Lawful Living stipulate that the offence is committed by ‘wilfully’ doing this, or ‘knowingly’ doing that. In other words, the legislature has decreed that it is not a crime, in the particular case, unless you have the necessary mental awareness – mens rea.

About Lawful Living

This is not a reference work on criminal law. Lawful Living is designed to inform, and publicise the quality of behaviour our country expects of its citizens. So there is no distinction drawn between statutory prohibitions which impose strict liability, and those which require there to be mens rea (in some form or another). Lawful Living is not a guide to your guilt – it’s just information.

There are other things to bear in mind. First, I have avoided repetitive textual references. Everything in Lawful Living concerns prohibited conduct. That I have written certain penal provisions in one style, others in another, and so forth, is simply so that you do not fall asleep in sheer boredom. Next, and importantly, if doing a certain deed contravenes a statute, then attempting to do so, or assisting, inciting or conspiring with another to do the deed is also a crime. I have not spelt this out in the book all the time. (Sometimes I have used a representative or compendious definition – for example, ‘assist’. This term is for convenience only.) Thirdly, in the statutes, a deed is (often) exempted from being an offence if there is ‘sufficient cause’, or ‘good cause’. In legal terms, this means there must be an adequate and substantial reason for doing the deed. To continue with dumping oil at sea as an example: it is not an offence if you were compelled to do it to save the boat, or human life. I have not considered it necessary to identify and isolate these instances for separate treatment.

Many statutes have provisions which are drafted somewhat murkily, to say the least. For example, the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1992 makes it an offence to fail to furnish any notice, information, statement or certificate required by this Act. It is left up to the reader to try and fathom what notice etc. is required – and sometimes this is not altogether clear. In other instances of legislation, it is worse. In these situations, I have diligently attempted to incorporate what can be deduced as constituting the prohibited conduct in question. I suppose an apology is due, where I have omitted anything, but I am not sure whether that due falls on me or the legislator. Criminal provisions should be nothing but precise, and worded with sparkling clarity.

There are some exclusions from Lawful Living. A number of statutes are just too esoteric to have a value which complements the aim of Lawful Living. As it turns out, this applies in a very small proportion of all statutes. Then, many statutes have important criminal provisions, but also some particularly esoteric prohibitions. For the same reason, these particular clauses are not dealt with. Lastly, obviously, some statutes have no criminal provisions at all. A list of these exceptions is included.

I have also not referred (except in a few very specific instances) to delegated legislation, to by-laws, regulations, and so forth. Lawful Living only deals with national statutes – at least, at this stage. The statutes that are dealt with are as amended, and up to date, as at December 2016. Obviously changes and amendments to the statutes will be written in to ensure that you stay up to date as well!

In most chapters I have introduced the statute in question with a topical or anecdotal referencing, just to give some context. In some instances, interesting information is given, be it of statistics or whatever. I cannot promise - and nor hold out to provide - the latest or most detailed information. The introduction is really just that - to give context.

A last word on interpretation. The terminology ‘he/she/it’ is avoided. My use of the articles ‘he’ and ‘she’ is gender-free. The offences apply to all persons – and, where appropriate, to juristic persons as well; i.e. companies.

And a last word altogether. It is as well to emphasise that, although great care has been taken in the interpretation, rephrasing and compilation of Lawful Living, it is not intended to constitute legal authority; nor to restate the law; nor to consist of advice in any shape or form; nor to take the place of proper legal advice where it is required.