Oblique intent

Why the name? Well criminal law afficionados will recognise the phrase 'oblique intent' as referring to a problem of mens rea:can a person who intends to do x (such as setting fire to a building to scare the occupants) also be said to have an intention to kill if one of the occupants dies? This is a problem that has consumed an inordinate amount of time in the appeal courts and in the legal journals, and can be taken to represent a certain kind of approach to legal theory. My approach is intended to be more oblique to this mainstream approach, and thus to raise different kinds of questions and issues. Hence the name.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

On the Murders Abroad Act 1817

Here is the text of this Act passed by the British Parliament in 1817:
“All murders and manslaughters committed or that shall be committed within any other islands, countries or places not within his Majesty’s dominions, nor subject to any European state or power, nor within the territory of the United States of America, by the master or crew of any British ship or vessel … or by any person sailing therein or belonging thereto, or that shall have sailed in or belonged to and have quitted any British ship or vessel to live in any of the said islands countries or places .. may be tried, adjudged and punished … in the same manner as if such offence or offences had been committed on the high seas."
What is striking about this is that it seeks to extend the jurisdiction of the English law of homicide to what the celebrated English criminal lawyer, Glanville Wiliams called “uncivilised territory” i.e. that which is not controlled by Britain, other European powers or the United States. This was passed as a particular response to outrages committed by sailors in the Pacific Islands and certain areas of Latin America. It both demonstrates the hubris of imperial power - our law extends even to those place outwith the dominion of the Crown - and creates an interesting linkage between jurisdiction and civilisation.
[There is an archive containing this and simliar legislation relating to the South Pacific at http://www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj/library/online/texts/Pacific_archive/homepage.htm ]

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