Fair labelling in criminal law

Researchers: James Chalmers and Fiona Leverick


This project aimed to subject the principle of ‘fair labelling’ in criminal law to a comprehensive and critical analysis. Although the term had become common currency in criminal law scholarship its scope and justification had never been analysed in detail, with basic questions remaining unanswered, such as the intended audience for these labels and whether they assume the same importance in respect of both offences and defences.

This main output from the project was an article in the Modern Law Review which traces the intellectual history of the principle of fair labelling and examines its possible justifications in respect of offence labelling, noting that labelling is important in two distinct senses: that of description, and that of differentiation. It identifies a number of distinct audiences for offence labels (such as the general public, legal professionals, employers and the offender him or herself), whose information needs are likely to differ in key respects. It goes on to sketch out some considerations which are of importance in the principle’s application, before concluding with a discussion of its applicability to defences.

Key publications:

J Chalmers and F Leverick, “Fair labelling in criminal law” (2008) 71(2) Modern Law Review 217-246 [HeinOnline ¦ Wiley Online Library].