The specialness of the general part of the criminal law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Glanville Williams and the general part Glanville Williams is often and rightly credited with the emergence of the idea that criminal law has something aptly called a “general part.” This is because of his highly regarded book of 1953, Criminal Law: The General Part, reissued in its even better known second edition in 1961. Williams was in truth the originator of neither the idea nor the label. In 1947, Jerome Hall had earlier explored the idea of there being “the ‘general part’ of the criminal law,” tracing the origins of the idea and the label to Hale’s Pleas of the Crown, published in 1682. Hall also mentions James Stephen, who (in Stephen’s own words) sought to give a systematic treatment of the “general doctrines pervading the whole subject” of criminal law, doctrines “which enter more or less into the definition of all offenses.” Still, it was Williams’ book that placed the general part of the criminal law squarely in the forefront of the agendas of both academics writing about criminal law, and drafters seeking to systematically codify the criminal law. Despite occasional dissents, it is the agenda that we all carry on today. Williams himself appeared to regard the distinction (between the general and special parts of the criminal law) to be unproblematic. The general part was. well, general. As he said in his preface to Criminal Law: The General Part, the general part consisted of those “general rules of the criminal law, i.e., those applying to more than one crime.” In its reliance on generality to mark the distinction, this was similar to Jerome Hall’s conception of the distinction. Hall wrote in 1947 that the general part consisted of “certain generalizations [that] apply to all prescriptions of particular offenses,” whereas the rules containing such prescriptions constituted the special part.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law
Subtitle of host publicationThe Legacy of Glanville Williams
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages37
ISBN (Electronic)9781139104159
ISBN (Print)9781107020474
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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