Civil and Criminal Justice

In our consultation paper we propose the repeal of some 13 statutory provisions which are either obsolete or are no longer of practical utility.  They relate to aspects of civil and criminal justice, although the grouping under this topic heading is fairly loose. The statutes reviewed (and on which we recommend repeal, either in whole or in part) span some 700 years of law-making, from 1267 through to 1988.

The statutes fall within eight categories:

  • Binding over
  • Criminal process (in Scotland)
  • Distress
  • Extradition
  • Forgery
  • Fraud
  • Police (principally for Northern Ireland)
  • Sale of public offices.

The oldest of the statutes sought to regulate the levying of distress on goods and animals by sheriffs and bailiffs, to be enforced through civil proceedings (1267, and probably 1322), and empowered justices of the peace to bind over defendants in criminal proceedings (1361).  Although the three statutes have historic value, their retention on the live statute book is no longer warranted.  In each case their function has been overtaken by the enactment of 20th and 21st century legislation.  The statutes applied initially in England - and later Wales - only, although those on distress were also extended to Ireland (now only Northern Ireland). ~

By contrast, the provisions dealt with in this consultation paper relating to criminal process, forgery and fraud focus on Scotland, where they are still alive, although the Acts also had some marginal impact on the remainder of the United Kingdom.  The recommendation relating to police is founded on a 1969 Act which facilitated reciprocal policing arrangements between the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and mainland British police forces.  This note focuses on Northern Ireland only.

Finally, political reforms over the past 140 years (underpinned by modern legislation culminating in the recent Bribery Act 2010) have rendered the 16th century statute on sale of offices (and its extending Act of 1809) unnecessary and devoid of practical purpose.

None of the legislative provisions discussed in the present paper have practical usefulness today. Each is therefore recommended for whole or consequential partial repeal through the Law Commission’s next Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, which is programmed for its parliamentary debut in Spring 2012. 

The closing date for comments on this consultation is 29 October 2010.