The right to protection from retroactive criminal law


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The history of the principle of non-retroactivity

1. G. Williams, Criminal Law, The General Part (2nd ed., 1961), p. 576.
2. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), Chapters 27-28, quoted in Williams, op. cit., p. 580.

The arguments in favour of the principle of non-retroactivity

3. (1971) 125 C.L.R. 228.
4. Ibid., at 240, per Gibbs J.
5. F. C. von Savigny, Private International Law, and the Retrospective Operation of Statutes (1880), p. 344.
6. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 582.
7. C. C. Turpin, "Criminal Law—Conspiracy to Corrupt Public Morals" [1961] Cambridge Law Journal 144 at 146.
8. The exception referred to is contained in the last sentence of Article 15(1): "If, subsequent to the commission of the offence, provision is made by law for the imposition of a lighter penalty, the offender shall benefit thereby."
9. T. Opsahl and A. de Zayas, "The Uncertain Scope of Article 15(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" [1983] Canadian Human Rights Yearbook 237 at 244-245.
10. Ibid., at 252.
11. S. Glueck, War Criminals, Their Prosecution and Punishment (1944), p. 106.

The arguments against the principle of non-retroactivity

12. F. C. von Savigny, op. cit., p. 344.
13. Ibid.
14. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 601.
15. F. C. von Savigny, op. cit., pp. 345.
16. This theory of law-making was reified in the much-criticised amendment of the German Criminal Code by the Nazis, discussed below.

The Nuremberg trials

17. A. Palmer, The Penguin Dictionary of Twentieth Century History (1979), pp. 285-286.
18. G. Williams, op. cit., pp. 577-578.
19. Ibid., at p. 578.
20. Reichsgesetzblatt (1935) I Art. 1, quoted in S. Glueck, The Nuremberg Trial and Aggressive War (1946), p. 73.
21. J. Stone, Social Dimensions of Law and Justice (1966), p. 205.

Shaw v. Director of Public Prosecutions

22. [1962] A.C. 220.
23. Ibid., at 220-221.
24. Ibid., at 221.
25. J. Stone, op. cit., p. 373.
26. C. C. Turpin, op. cit., at 144-146.
27. [1933] 1 K.B. 529.
28. J. Stone, op. cit., p. 206.

"Bottom of the harbour"

29. A. Freiberg, "Ripples from the Bottom of the Harbour: Some Social Ramifications of Taxation Fraud" (1988) 12 Crim.L.J. 136 at 159.
30. Ibid.
31. P. Gillies, Criminal Law (1985), p. 3.
32. C. R. Williams, Brett and Waller's Criminal Law, Text and Cases (5th ed., 1983), p. 3.
33. G. Williams, Textbook of Criminal Law (2nd ed., 1983), p. 27.
34. Senate, Debates 1982, Vol. S96, p. 2594.
35. House of Representatives, Debates 1982, Vol. HR129, p. 1866.

Judge-made law

36. G. Williams, Criminal Law, The General Part (2nd ed., 1961), p. 593.


37. The defence of superior orders was generally recognised by the community of nations prior to the Nuremberg trials. The Nazis were not allowed this defence.
38. "Opposition Makes Strong Attack on 'Media Release Laws' ", "Breakthrough in 'Legislation by Media Release' Battle", and "Senate Changes Starting Date of Tax on Non-Cash Benefits" (1989) 24(1) Australian Law News 9-13.
39. Much of the criticism of "government by press release" has been directed at the length of time between the public announcement and the passing of the relevant legislation (up to three and a half years), and at differences between the details of the public announcement and the actual legislation. The retrospective nature of the legislation has not usually been attacked.

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