General Defences

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Book Chapter

Publication Date



This chapter argues that current conceptualisations hide significant fundamental distinctions between defences and between defence groups, and that this obscuration distorts the theories and formulation of defences. It also argues that better conceptualisation and a more accurate reflection of how current law actually operates would instead recognize five groups of defences. In addition, it takes up these groups of defences in reverse order: non-exculpatory defences, excuses, and then justifications. Moreover, it examines more closely at each of these groups: how each group differs from the other groups, the existence of distinguishable subgroups within a group, the shared theory and structure of the defences within the group, and a critique of current formulations. It then briefly signals some of the highlights of these discussions. To summarise, current law adopts the terminology of a ‘reasons’ theory of justification: an actor is justified if the actor believes the conduct is justified; the actual nature of the deed is irrelevant.


non-exculpatory defences, conceptualisations, excuses, justifications

Publication Title

Structure and Function in Criminal Law