Violent crime laws are 'out of date' says Law Commission


Laws covering some violent crimes are out of date and confusing and should be replaced, the government's legal advisers have said.

More than 26,000 prosecutions are brought each year under the 154-year-old Offences Against the Person Act, while there are at least another 100,000 for assault under common law.

The Law Commission said the legislation is difficult to understand and includes archaic and obscure language.

For instance, it includes references to concepts that are no longer recognised in law such as "felony" and obsolete offences such as "impeding an escape from a shipwreck".

Offences commonly known as Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) are among the numerous offences covered by the Act.

However, they are not coherently classified in order of seriousness or clearly defined, the Commission said.

It recommended that the Act be replaced with modern legislation based on a bill drafted in 1998 which was not ultimately introduced.

A report published by the body today called for the creation of a new offence of aggravated assault, which would carry a maximum sentence of 12 months and could only be tried in magistrates' courts.

This would allow prosecutors to divert "low-level injury cases" from more expensive Crown Court hearings, according to the Commission.

It also said laws covering threatening offences should be extended to include threats to rape and cause serious injury, as the existing regime means no offences fall between a threat to kill, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence, and a threat to assault, which can result in up to six months.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said: "Violent behaviour results in up to 200,000 prosecutions each year but the law under which violent offences are prosecuted is out of date and confusing for the courts, defendants and victims.

"If implemented, our recommended reforms will produce a clear, modern statutory code to deal with offences of violence.

"A logical hierarchy of clearly defined offences will allow prosecutors to make more appropriate and efficient use of valuable court time. And properly labelled offences will make sure the true nature of violent behaviour is recognised for what it is."