Neglect of Duty and Breach of Trust. Ancient offences in the modern battle against impunity in the public service

Date12 October 2010
Publication Date12 October 2010
AuthorTerrence F. Williams
SubjectAccounting & finance
Neglect of Duty and Breach
of Trust
Ancient offences in the modern battle against
impunity in the public service
Terrence F. Williams
Norman Manley Law School, Kingston, Jamaica
Purpose – The paper seeks to contend that first, the current law treating Neglect of Duty and Breach
of Trust as a single offence is incorrect; and second, that the offences can be an important tool in
battling public corruption.
Design/methodology/approach The paper traces the historical development of the offences
throughout the Commonwealth.
Findings – The single-offence approach lacks historical antecedents and has not been uniformly
Originality/value – The paper could engender debate, and correction, of the single offence approach
as well as encourage greater use of the offences in prosecuting egregious conduct that would not
otherwise be criminal.
Keywords Criminal law, Publicsector organizations
Paper type Viewpoint
[...] a man accepting an office of trust concerning the public, especially if attended [...] with
profit, is answerable criminally to the King for misbehaviour in his office; this is true by
whomever and in whatever way the officer is appointed[1].
When Stephen (1877) published his seminal treatise on the criminal law, he classified
the various offences of public officer misconduct; this paper is concerned with two of
them, Breach of Trust and Neglect of Duty, described by Stephen thus:
Frauds And Breaches Of Trust By Officers.
Every public officer commits a misdemeanour who, in the discharge of the duties of his office
commits any fraud or breach of trust affecting the public, whether such fraud or breach of
trust would have been criminal or not if committed against a private person[2].
Neglect Of Official Duty.
Every public officer commits a misdemeanour who wilfully neglects to perform any duty
which he is bound either by common law or by statute to perform, provided that the
discharge of such duty is not attended with greater danger than a man of ordinary firmness
and activity may be expected to encounter[3].
These offences were disseminated throughout the common law jurisdictions with the
acceptance of Stephen’s (n.d.) codification in many colonies[4]. Even, where no codes
exist, the offences continue to enjoy some recognition in judicial decisions throughout
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Money Laundering Control
Vol. 13 No. 4, 2010
pp. 336-350
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/13685201011083867

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