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The Place of Criminal Law In Criminal Science

The definition of a crime has always been regarded as a matter of great difficulty. Where the task of definition is difficult, it is advisable that a student should not address himself to it until he has acquired some considerable knowledge of the subject matter to be defined. Therefore, before making an attempt to understand the definition of crime, we shall endeavor to have some basic information relating to crime and criminal law.

―Crime‖ is an offence committed by an individual who is a basic unit of a society. 

Therefore, study of crime i.e. Criminal Science‖ is a social study. The main aims of Criminal Science are:

  1. To discover the causes of criminality,
    1. To devise the most effective methods of reducing the amount of


  • To perfect the machinery for dealing with criminals.

Based on these three objectives, three main branches of Criminal Science have developed.  They are:

1.  Criminology:  It is the study of crime and criminal punishment as social phenomena. This branch of criminal science is concerned with causes of crimes and comprises of two different branches.

  1. Criminal Biology:  This investigates causes of criminality, which may be found in the mental or physical constitution of the delinquent himself such as hereditary tendencies and physical defects. 
  • Criminal Sociology:  This deals with enquiries into the effects of environment as a cause of criminality. This branch focuses on the objective factors like social, political and economic conditions leading to criminality, also termed as criminal anthropology.
  • Criminal Policy or Penology: This branch of Criminal Science is concerned with limiting harmful conduct in society.  It makes use of the information provided by Criminology.  Therefore, the subjects of Criminal policy for investigation are:
  1. The appropriate measures of social organization for preventing harmful activities,
    1. The treatment to be given to those who have caused harm, whether the offenders are to be given warnings, supervised probation, medical treatment, or more serious deprivations of life or liberty, such as imprisonment or capital punishment.

This branch of study is also termed as ‗Penology‘ and deals with treatment, prevention and control of crimes.

  • Criminal Law: The Criminal Policies postulated by the above twin sisterbranches i.e. Criminology and Penology, are implemented through the instrumentality of ‗Criminal law‘.  In other words, criminal policies are implemented through the agency of criminal law.  The criminal law decides the special sanctions appropriate in each case.  These sanctions range from death penalty through various kinds of degrees of deprivation of liberty, down to such measures as medical treatment, supervision as in probation, fines and mere warnings (admonishment).

Branches of Criminal law:  Criminal law in its wider sense consists of two branches.

  1. Substantive Criminal Law,
  2. Adjective/Procedural Criminal law.

The Substantive Criminal law‘ lays down the principles of criminal liability, defines offences and prescribes punishments for the same.  The Ethiopian Criminal Code does this business.  However, the substantive criminal law by its very nature cannot be self-operative.  A person committing a crime is not automatically stigmatized and punished.  At the same time, generally, a criminal would not be interested in confessing his guilt and receiving the punishment.  It is for this reason that ‗Procedural Criminal law‘ has been designed to look after the process of the administration and enforcement of the substantive criminal law.  In the absence of procedural criminal Law, the substantive criminal Law would be almost worthless.  because without the enforcement mechanism the threat of punishment held out to the lawbreakers by the substantive criminal law would remain empty in practice.  Thus, the procedural criminal law is to administer the substantive criminal law and give enforcement to it.  The scope of our study i.e. ‗Criminal law‘ falls under the branch of substantive criminal Law.

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