Matthew Dyson and Benjamin Vogel (eds), The Limits of Criminal Law: Anglo-German Concepts and Principles

Date01 September 2020
Published date01 September 2020

This volume is the fruit of a collaboration between two groups of scholars: one English and one German. It is an interesting and original contribution to comparative criminal law scholarship, in two respects. First, its focus is unusual. The object of comparison is not particular areas of criminal law doctrine, but rather the limits of criminal law. In some parts of the book, this means the boundaries between criminal law and related areas, such as tort, intelligence, and administrative sanctions. In others, it means criminal law's normative limits, both substantive and procedural, and contexts in which these have been tested. These include terrorism, regulation, medical law, and “alternative enforcement” (referring here both to alternative sanctioning procedures within the criminal process and to quasi-punitive but formally non-criminal measures).

Second, the book's approach is also unusual. Each part consists of three chapters: one each giving the English and German perspectives on the topic, followed by a comparative conclusion by the editors. The editors then close the book with a final comparative concluding chapter. The content of each trio of chapters was determined collaboratively, through scoping papers and discussion at workshops; this has lent a welcome coherence that the book might easily have lacked. The overall result is a book that delivers both rich descriptive detail on the two systems and significant, high-level comparative insights. (These blessings are arguably somewhat mixed: the overall length of around 600 pages, plus the limited analytical value of individual chapters read in isolation, may deter some potential readers.)

One welcome aspect of the book is that it attends to broad similarities between the two systems, as well as their undoubted differences. Most importantly, both traditions view censure and punishment as the key distinguishing features of criminal sanctions, and subscribe to similar sets of core normative principles. Both have witnessed similar challenges to these traditional understandings: for example, sanctions that may be imposed without a full criminal trial; measures that blur the boundaries between censure, prevention, and compensation; and new forms of criminal offence that push the core principles to their limits. These developments have also reflected similar concerns in both systems: for example, the inefficiency of the traditional criminal process, a renewed concern for victims in criminal law, and the...

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