Criminal Law Web

Overview & User's Guide


The Criminal Law Web is an online resource for the study and teaching of criminal law from a comparative perspective.  With hyperlinks and other basic online tools, it highlights the structure, diversity, and scope of modern penal law.  Users can explore connections within a given system of criminal law as well as across different systems.

The Criminal Law Web currently includes:

  • Selected annotations to the current Canadian Criminal Code, primarily on provisions addressing general principles of criminal liability
  • A collection of materials on the history of the Canadian Criminal Code (and of English criminal codification), including, for instance, the 1878 English Criminal Code Draft (by James Fitzjames Stephen) the 1879 English Code Bill Commission Draft, and the original 1892 Canadian Criminal Code
  • The 1987 Draft Criminal Code (by the Law Reform Commission of Canada, LRCC), with official commentary and without
  • Selections from the 1962 Model Penal Code (by the American Law Institute)
  • A bilingual version of the German Penal Code (StGB)
  • Annotated Analytical Structures of Criminal Liability, based on
  • Collections of Cases & Materials on
  • A Penal Code Comparer and Analyzer, for topical comparison across, and analysis within selected criminal codes, focusing on general principles of criminal liability:
    • California Penal Code
    • Federal Criminal Code (U.S.)
    • Federal Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.)
    • German Penal Code
    • Model Penal Code
    • New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice
    • New York Penal Law
    • North Dakota Criminal Code (based on Proposed Federal Criminal Code)
    • Penal Law of Israel
    • Pennsylvania Crimes Code
    • Proposed Federal Criminal Code (1971, U.S.)
    • Sample Draft Criminal Code (Paul Robinson)
    • Texas Penal Code
    • Uniform Code of Military Justice (U.S.)

User's Guide

The Criminal Law Web is designed as a resource for teachers, students, scholars, legislators & policymakers, lawyers & judges, as well as for the general public.   

The Criminal Law Web gives teachers access to an online library of criminal law materials before, during, and after class.  As a result, teachers can communicate to their students not merely a multitude of rules, but also their interconnectedness (if not necessarily their coherence).  (See Dubber, Criminal Law in a Comparative Context (using U.S. criminal law as an example).)

Before class, the teacher can select from the Criminal Law Web code sections, court opinions or other materials for class discussion.  In class, the Web can add flexibility: on the fly, the teacher can draw on the Web to illustrate and pursue an unanticipated line of inquiry or to frame and address a student’s question.  For example, as a student's comment on, say, the necessity defense brings to the teacher's mind a feature of the German Penal Code's treatment of the subject, she can quickly select it for closer inspection; if the comment instead brings out an interesting distinction between the Model Penal Code and the German Criminal Code on this issue, the teacher can use the Penal Code Comparer to pull up the relevant sections.

The teacher might assemble a comparative set of materials, drawing from the comprehensive collection of cases and materials on U.S. criminal law and Canadian criminal law.  Alternatively, she might use one complete set of materials, perhaps supplementing it with selections from the other.  The collection on Canadian criminal law already includes excerpts from, and references to, materials from other jurisdictions, along with secondary readings that provide historical and theoretical context.   

By integrating its materials into various analytic structures, the Criminal Law Web helps students see individual rules in a broader context.  Students can use the Web to prepare for class, to take notes and follow discussion during class, to review the materials after class, and to prepare for the exam or to complete assignments.  By taking advantage of the dynamic features of the site, including the comparers and the hyperlinks interconnecting codes, cases, and commentary, students can on their own time and at their own pace appreciate and explore conceptual connections within a given body of law or across jurisdictional lines.  This out-of-class work enhances students’ understanding of the subject as well as the quality of class discussions.  The Web's analytic structures in particular can prove useful in the preparation of outlines or summaries.

The use of the code-based, comparative Criminal Law Web to any scholar exploring a comparative approach to criminal law, domestically or internationally, is apparent.  She may find the Penal Code Comparer and the collection of Analytic Structures of particular interest.  It is important to recognize the limits of the Criminal Law Web, however.  It covers only one aspect of the system of penal law, substantive criminal law (or criminal law, narrowly speaking).  A true Penal Law Web would represent all aspects of penal law reaching from the definition of penal norms (the province of substantive criminal law) to their imposition (the law of criminal procedure) and, last but certainly not least, the actual infliction of punishment for their violation (prison or correction law).  Yet more broadly, a Law Web would explore the place of penal law within law general speaking; ultimately, a Governance Web would capture law's place among modes of state power

For now, it is enough to differentiate between internal and external comparative analysis of criminal law: (1) within a legal system, both vis-å-vis other aspects of penal law (see above) and other branches of law (both private law--e.g., tort law--and public law--e.g., administrative law, including victim compensation law), and (2) across legal systems (the traditional conception of "comparative criminal law").  (See Dubber, Comparative Criminal Law.)  These forms of intradisciplinary analysis, in turn, are distinct from the various forms of interdisciplinary analysis (e.g., historical/economic/philosophical/sociological analysis of criminal law).  (See Dubber, Critical Analysis of Law.)

Legislators & Policymakers
The interconnectedness of the Criminal Law Web within a given jurisdiction also could guide lawmakers deciding whether (and, if so, how) the criminal law might be employed in a given case.  Similarly, lawmakers might use the Law Web’s collection of criminal codes, cases, and materials from other countries, supplemented by the Penal Code Comparer and the set of Analytic Structures, to gain an overview of the approaches that other jurisdictions have taken to general and specific issues of penal codification, ranging from the scope and structure of a penal code to the formulation of a particular provision.

Lawyers & Judges
Not only legislators and their various advisers, aides, and consultants (including legislative staffers, members of law revision commissions, and government officials in the relevant departments and agencies), but also other participants in the various aspects of the penal system may turn to the Criminal Law Web as a systematic, if necessarily not comprehensive, collection of criminal norms (most notably found in codes, statutes, and cases) in their "home" jurisdiction along with several others, many of which have been annotated and interconnected through internal and external hyperlinks.  This greater appreciation of the systematic--historical, even comparative--context of a given provision may permit the advocate or the judge to develop a more sophisticated analysis of a given case or controversy, perhaps ultimately resulting in a more consistent body of criminal jurisprudence. 

General Public
No matter what their objective, preventive or retributive, criminal norms may not be addressed merely to a specially trained subgroup of the state’s constituents.  Given the centrality of the idea of self-government in a law state, the legitimacy of any penal system can only be achieved if criminal law is brought home to its ultimate object-subjects, the very citizens who constitute the state that threatens and eventually inflicts punitive pain upon themselves in the name of (criminal) law.  In fact, the legitimacy of criminal law in an autonomy-based system of government will only be guaranteed if the distinction between official and non-official participants in the communal praxis of punishment is discarded, i.e., if all members of the political community recognize the state’s criminal law as also their criminal law.  As a publicly accessible resource, the Criminal Law Web may help facilitate this long-term legitimation of penal law by cutting through the layers of official system participants whose expert knowledge threatens to insulate the penal law from the constant public critical analysis it must undergo to earn and retain legitimacy.

~ Markus Dubber <email>