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General Objectives Of Criminal Law

The objectives of Criminal law are the protection of persons and property, the deterrence of criminal behavior, the punishment of criminal activity and rehabilitation of the criminal. 

  1. Protection of Persons and Property:

Safety and a sense of security are the most important things for the survival of any society.  Safety of a society includes personal safety i.e. safety of life and liberty and safety of property.  To ensure safety there is the necessity of maintaining peace and order.  This is possible only by an effective penal system, which is strong enough to deal with the violators of the law and enable the people to live peacefully and without fear of injury to their lives and property.  Thus, the prime objective of criminal law is protection of the public by maintenance of law and order.

―Tort law‖, a branch of civil law, also protects persons and property.  The difference between tort law and criminal law is that tort law results in money damages, whereas criminal law results in loss of freedom by sending a person to jail or prison.  Private interests are served through the awarding of damages.  The public interests are served by punishing criminal activity.  If all persons respected everyone else‘s person or property, there would be very little reason for criminal law.

  • Deterrence of Criminal Behavior:

A key to the hoped-for reduction in criminal behavior is that our criminal laws present a sufficient deterrent to antisocial behavior.  A ―deterrent‖ is a danger, difficulty or other consideration that stops or prevents a person from acting.  The presumption inherent in criminal law is that if we make the punishment sufficiently harsh, persons who might do something criminal are prevented from doing so because they fear punishment.  If enough people fear punishment, there will be considerable reduction in criminal activity.  

However, our Constitution states in Art. 18 that, there shall be no cruel and unusual punishment.  Certainly if our laws allowed the death penalty for even minor offences, there would probably be fewer minor offences.  But is that just?  To lose one‘s life for stealing a loaf of bread seems too high a price to pay for fewer loaves of bread being stolen.  The problem is to decide how much punishment will deter criminal behavior without going too far.

  • Punishment of Criminal Activity:

Since we will most likely be unable to deter all criminal activity, our laws accept that a certain level of criminal activity will exist in society.  Accordingly, we punish criminal activity for punishment‘s sake.  If a criminal takes something without paying for it or injures other without a justification, the criminal law makes that individual pay for it through deprivation of liberty for a period of time.

  • Rehabilitation of the Criminal:

Once convicted, a criminal will begin to serve a sentence in a prison.  But that is not where our criminal justice system ends.  Our government has designed various programs to educate and train criminals in legitimate occupations during the period of incarceration.  Upon release, therefore, there should be no reason to return to a life of crime.  Sometimes a sentence is suspended (Arts. 190-210 of the Criminal Code); that is, it is not put into effect.  In such cases, the court supervises the individuals‘ activities to ensure that they have learned from their mistakes.

The specific purpose and function of Criminal Law are clearly stated in Art. 1 of the

Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2004.  Art. 1. Para 1 sets out the purpose of criminal law (Code) as follows:

“The purpose of the Criminal Code of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia  is to ensure order, peace and the security of the state, its peoples, and its

inhabitants for the public good”.

‗Purpose‘ can be defined as the ultimate objective to be attained.  The above provision embodies ensuring order, peace and security of the state and the people of the country as its ultimate end to be achieved.  The second paragraph of Art. 1 proceeds to state the type of activities it aims to take up in order to achieve the purpose mentioned in the first para.  Art. 1 Para 2 lays down that:

It aims at the prevention of crimes by giving due notice of the crimes and penalties prescribed by law and should this be ineffective by providing for punishment of criminals in order to deter them from committing another crime and make them a lesson to others, or by providing for their reform

and measures to prevent the commission of further crimes.‖

This paragraph states ―What” the function of criminal law is … it is prevention crimes.  It also states How” the Criminal Code undertakes this function i.e. the methods adopted in performing this function, they are___

  • Giving due notice of the crimes and penalties prescribed by the law.
  • If such declaration of the punishable acts does not deter people from committing of crimes then the following methods are employed to deal with the criminals:
  • Provide for punishment and reform of criminals, and
  • Provide for measures to prevent the commission of further crimes.

Therefore, the functionof a thing is ‗what it is meant to actually do‘ towards a certain purpose.  Function is thus a special activity or task while purpose is the ultimate objective to be achieved.  Therefore, it follows that the Criminal Code of Ethiopia endeavors to achieve the purpose of ―ensuring order, peace and security of the state and its inhabitants for the public good‖ through declaration of forbidden conduct, providing for suitable punishment, reform of criminals and preventive measures to control the commission of crimes.

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