Criminal Law Act 1967

The Criminal Law Act 1967 (c.58) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom. However, with some minor exceptions, it generally applies to only England and Wales. It made some major changes to English criminal law. Most of it is still in force.

Several of the Act's provisions were adopted, word for word, in the law of Northern Ireland in the same year, and also in the Criminal Law Act 1997 of the Republic of Ireland.

Main provisions

  • Section 1 abolished the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. Originally, all crimes in English law were categorised in a hierarchy of treason, felony, and misdemeanour, each with their own rules of procedure and evidence. (Treason had been brought in line with felony in 1945.) The 1967 Act abolished felonies and stated that all former felonies would be tried according to the rules of procedure and evidence that applied in trials and pre-trial hearings for misdemeanours, whether the felony had been committed before or after the Act was passed. This also had the effect of abolishing the offences of misprision of felony and compounding a felony (but these offences were replaced with new ones in sections 4 and 5). Although all offences were now misdemeanours, the maximum penalties were not affected.
  • Since powers of arrest had depended on whether an offence was a felony or a misdemeanour, section 2 created a new category of "arrestable offences," defined as crimes for which the maximum sentence for an adult was five years or more. The section set out the circumstances in which a citizen or a constable could arrest somebody without a court warrant (police powers were more extensive than a civilian's).
    • Section 2 was repealed and replaced with section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which was broadly similar to section 2 but also applied to some less serious offences. Section 24 was supplemented by a section 25 which created new powers (for constables only) to arrest those suspected of "non-arrestable offences" in certain circumstances. Sections 24 and 25 were controversially amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which abolished the difference between arrestable and non-arrestable offences and substituted one set of police arrest powers for all offences, irrespective of the maximum sentence. Citizens' arrest was confined to indictable offences. This change took effect from 1 January 2006.
  • Section 3 replaces the common law rules on self-defence, such as the duty to retreat. It simply requires that any force used must be "reasonable in the circumstances." It is still in force today and states:

3. — (1) A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large. (2) Subsection (1) above shall replace the rules of the common law on the question when force used for a purpose mentioned in the subsection is justified by that purpose.
(Further provision about when force is "reasonable" was made by section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.)

  • Section 4 created a new offence of assisting anyone who had committed an arrestable offence, "with intent to impede his apprehension or prosecution." This replaced the rules on accessories after the fact in felony cases. The penalty for this offence is linked to the penalty for whatever offence the original offender has committed (between three and ten years' imprisonment). Section 5(1) created a new offence which replaced misprision and compounding of felony. It stated that a person who has information which might lead to the prosecution of an arrestable offence and who agrees to accept consideration (other than compensation for the offence) in exchange for not disclosing that information to the authorities is liable to two years' imprisonment.
    • When the concept of an "arrestable offence" was abolished, sections 4 and 5(1) were amended so that they now apply to any "relevant offence," which is defined in identical terms to the original 1967 definition of arrestable offence. This significantly reduced the scope of these offences from the wider 1984 definition, which had been steadily extended over the years.
    • A person may not be prosecuted for these offences without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or a Crown prosecutor.
  • Section 5(2) creates the offence commonly known as "wasting police time," committed by giving false information to the police "tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry." The maximum sentence is six months. A person may not be prosecuted for this offence without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or a Crown prosecutor.
  • Section 5(5) preserves the common law offence of compounding treason.
  • Section 6 deals with the procedures for arraignment and verdict. In particular, it deals with alternative verdicts (or alternative pleas). When a defendant is found not guilty of the offence he is charged with but is found guilty of a less serious offence (or he wishes to plead not guilty to the more serious offence but guilty to a lesser one), the section allows a verdict or plea of guilty to the lesser offence to be entered even though the offence may not be explicitly charged on the indictment. It also states if a defendant refuses to enter a plea then it defaults to not guilty.
  • Section 13 abolished the common law offences of champerty and barratry, challenging to fight, eavesdropping or being "a common scold or a common night walker." It also repealed the offence of praemunire, which had survived on the statute books since 1392. It preserves the common law offence of embracery.


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