Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Principles of Criminal Law

UM LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course




DESCRIPTION • Penal Laws: Notion - Contents - Criminal Law and Morality – Necessity;

• The nature of a Criminal Offence: Criminal Wrong and Civil Wrong - defining a criminal offence;

• Classification of Criminal Offences: Commission and Omission - formal and material - simple and complex - instantaneous and continuing - crimes and contraventions - indictable, non-indictable and triable either way - depenalised offences;

• Interpretation:
o Kinds: Doctrinal - Authentic - Judicial;
o Approaches: Literal - Logical;
o Special Rules: In dubio pro reo - Declaratory - Extensive and Restrictive – Analogy

• The Subject of a Criminal Offence: natural persons and legal persons - individual liability - corporate liability;

• Operation of the Criminal Law:
o Limitation by time: principles of transitory criminal law - non-retrospectivity - substantive law - laws of evidence - laws of procedure.
o Limitation by territory: theories of jurisdiction - territorial - personal - universal - self-preservation or quasi territorial; jurisdiction under the Criminal Code and other laws;

• Extradition: definition - double criminality - rule of speciality - return of nationals - extraditable offence - list and eliminative approaches - political offences - murder of head of state - anarchistic and terrorist offences - race, place of origin, nationality etc. - death penalty - ne bis in idem - prescription - amnesty and pardon - military offences - persons convicted in absentia - fiscal offences - procedure - simplified extradition - aut dedere aut iudicare
Beyond Extradition: surrender - European arrest warrant;

• The Theory of Criminal Liability: material and formal conditions of liability.
o Material condition of liability: actus reus - acts - omissions - state of affairs - causation.
o Formal condition of liability: mens rea - dolo - culpa - casus - motive - premeditation - generic intent and specific intent - determinate and indeterminate intent - good faith.
o Negligence or Culpa: subjective theory and objective theory - negligence in the Maltese Criminal Code - degrees of negligence - contributory negligence - the victim's consent.

• General notions of defence from criminal liability: The topic covers grounds of defences to criminal charges. These include coercion, civil subjection, necessity (ius necessitatis), the notions of justification and excuse at law, distinction between the notions of justifiable and excusable homicides or bodily harms, legitimate defence, and finally mistakes of law and mistakes of fact.

• General Grounds of defences from criminal liability : In this part the intellectual and volitional capacities of a subject of criminal law will be examined and in particular defences relating to a lack one of these capacities will be studied in detail. These include the defence of infancy, deaf-mutism, insanity and intoxication.

• Criminal Attempts: The notion of a criminal attempt will be critically studied and selected legal theories relating to criminal attempts will be examined. In particular attention will be placed on the definition of an attempted offence, the distinction between preparatory acts, acts of commencement of execution and ultimate consummation of the offence, the notion of voluntary desistance and accidental non-consummation of the offence, the punishment for an attempted offence, and also the application of the notion of attempt to various classes of offences.

• Complicity: Attention will be placed on the general rules applicable to all forms of criminal participation. In particular the person of the principal and the figure of the accomplice will be defined and the element of "common design" required between principal and accomplice will be studied. This part will also cover an in depth analyses of the acts of complicity (moral and physical participation); the relationship between the notion of complicity and the notion of attempt; real and personal circumstances; the instances when real circumstances are communicable to other accomplices in an offence; the punishment of principals and accomplices and finally the extent of individual liability of each of the parties to an offence.

• Conspiracy: In this part the general rules applicable to all forms of criminal conspiracies will be examined. This part will cover the formal and material elements of the offence of conspiracy; the moment of completion of a criminal conspiracy; the punishment of co-conspirators and the relationship between conspiracy and the notions of complicity and attempts.

• Concurrence of Offences: This part deals with the instances where one person is charged or accused with more than one criminal offence. The part will cover the manner in which the person charged or accused is to answer to each offence and the manner in which punishment is to be meted out.

• Punishment: In this part a brief introduction to the theories underpinning the notion of punishment under our law will be examined. The part will also cover the nature, purpose, quantum and classification of punishment. An analysis of the forms of punishment will be undertaken and in particular the alternative non-custodial methods of punishment (including the probation order and the suspended sentence) will be examined. Finally the instance of concurrence of punishments will also be discussed.

Study-unit Aims

The aim of this study-unit is to examine the principles of Criminal Law, the theory of Responsibility, Limitations of Criminal law and General defences will be critically examined

Learning Outcomes

1. Knowledge & Understanding: By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Understand the main principles and notions governing criminal law in Maltese law.
2. Read and comprehend the main offences in criminal law forming part of the syllabus of criminal law.
3. Read and understand provisions of criminal law generally
4. Understand the principle interplay in interpreting criminal law;
5. Understand the manner in which jurists and case-law assist in the interpretation of law.
6. Understand the manner in which criminal responsibility works in Maltese Law having mastered the theory of criminal responsibility.
7. Understand the limitations by time and territory of criminal law under Maltese Law
8. Understand and apply general defences and criminal charges under Maltese Law.

2. Skills: By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Apply and interpret criminal law provisions to given facts or cases

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

Recommended Reading:

1. Mamo: Notes on Criminal Law
2. Criminal Code, Chapter 9, Laws of Malta
3. Constitution of Malta, Chapter 1, Laws of Malta
4. The Interpretation Act, Chapter 249, Laws of Malta
5. JC Smith and Brian Hogan, “Criminal Law - 7th Edition”, Butterworths, 1992
6. Francesco Antolisei, Manuale di Diritto Penale, Giuffre’; 1996
7. McCall Smith and Sheldon, Scots Criminal Law, Butterworths; 1992
8. Andrew Ashworth, Principles of Criminal Law, Clarendon Press; 1991

ADDITIONAL NOTES Students taking this study-unit need to have a background in law.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Examination (3 Hours) SEM2 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Jason Azzopardi
Ann-Marie Cutajar
Martin Fenech
Stefano Filletti
Joseph Giglio
Lucio Sciriha


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.