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Why are criminal laws written into statute

Criminal law is a branch of law that deals with felonies and misdemeanours. When persons commit specific breaches of the criminal law, they get arrested, face a lawsuit and spend jail time or avoid the latter by posting bail. It’s the same for all countries worldwide, including Australia.

The justice system is meant to punish and reform criminals, and each state is given autonomy to determine punishable crimes in their territories. Hence, criminal law in NSW or New South Wales may vary from criminal law Qld or Queensland. However, punishments in most states constitute punitive costs and imprisonment. Because of the future and lives at stake in criminal cases, it’s crucial to seek the services of a reputable criminal law firm Melbourne has on its list.

Meanwhile, judges have specific considerations in determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. In most instances, they refer to the state and federal government’s criminal code – the body of states that constitute the criminal law. So, why are criminal laws written into statute? Discover the answer in this blog.  


Statute law

Statutes refer to written laws enacted by legislative bodies. In Australia, statutory laws are bills that the Australian Parliament has passed. The passing of a bill involves a majority vote among the Senate and House of Representatives members. (1)


Criminal laws around the world are statutory. Local, state and federal governments have foregone the old practice of merely using common law as bases for identifying criminal acts. Instead, they created their versions of these regulations through law-making assemblies and curated them into what’s popularly known as the criminal code or penal code. Statue law always overrides common law. (2)


Why criminal laws must be statutory

Being accused of a crime is severe and life-changing. While criminal laws identify crimes and punishments, it also seeks to uphold the rights of the accused. Such a concept is often expressed in the legal mantra that a charged person is innocent until proven guilty.

Below are the reasons why criminal laws are written into statute:


  1. To punish bad deeds and not evil thoughts

Criminal law statutes comprise the essential elements: mens rea and actus reus. Simply put, mens rea is the guilty mind. But it’s not enough to prosecute persons merely because they have an intention to kill but cause no harm to anyone. This is where actus reus, or the guilty act, comes in. An accused must have done something overtly to carry out their guilty thoughts. (3)

In most cases, a misdeed that isn’t a result of a guilty mind isn’t considered a crime. Criminal statutes worldwide, including criminal law Qld, require these two essential elements to determine whether a crime has been committed or not. (3)


  1. Statutes ensure criminal law is applied correctly at all times

The basic concepts of legality in criminal law ensure its proper implementation. The principle of legality is anchored on the essential ideas that include the following:

a.       There can be no crime without a law- A person committing any form of ‘misconduct’ that isn’t identified as a punishable offence can’t be arrested or face a lawsuit. Statutory laws are the only source of criminal law. This concept helps restore societal order and protect citizens’ rights.

  1. Criminal laws are subject to a strict interpretation- This means that criminal offences and punishments must only be authorized by law. It involves applying the provisions and instructions in the criminal code in actual practice.
  2. Criminal law isn’t retroactive- The law can’t be applied retroactively. For the accused to be charged with a felony, the law must have been applicable when the alleged act was committed. This legal concept is globally recognized even in international laws and treaties.
  3. Criminal statutes must be clear- Because criminal rules require strict interpretation, the language used in crafting the laws must be succinct. In cases of obscurity, the practice tends to favour the accused slightly. In some cases, some states may consider ambiguous regulations irrelevant.



  1. To impose reasonable validity periods

While the principle of legality states that the application of criminal regulations can’t be retroactive, the statutes of limitations indicate when a prosecutor can file criminal charges against the accused. That being said, alleged victims may not be able to seek justice once the prescribed period has passed.

However, statutes of limitations change from time to time. For instance, criminal law in NSW states that any firearms offence must be filed within two years from the alleged offence date. The statute of limitations does not apply to sex-related and other indictable crimes. The same can be said of most countries, where violent crimes like rape and domestic violence may no longer have stringent statutory periods. (4)


Criminal law can be confusing, and there are several legal concepts to consider. If you or a loved one is accused of a crime, you may take the uphill route of reviewing local or state laws such as criminal law in NSW or criminal law Qld. Inversely, you can visit reputable legal counsels at criminal law firm Melbourne if you’re from the area or similar law offices near you. You may also choose to book an appointment with e-law legal to achieve clarity on your case.


1. Types of Law

2. Sources of Criminal Law

3.Mens Rea, Actus Rectus, and the Role Of the State

4.Criminal Law

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