Definition

Criminal law has been universally defined in the following terms:

Criminal law or penal law is the body of law that relates to crime. It regulates social conduct and proscribes whatever is threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people. It includes the punishment of people who violate these laws.”

Historical context

Ever since the dawn of civilization, mankind has tried to impose codes of behavior that are (ostensibly) uniformly applicable to all segments of society. These codes seek to curb antisocial behavior though the instrument of punishment to ensure that society as a whole is able to live in peace and prosperity.

Among the most famous of ancient civilization’s laws was the “Code of Hammurabi”. Hammurabi was a Babylonian King who codified the laws of his kingdom and specified different punishments for breaking them.

Criminal law and civilization

Different societies and civilizations have imposed their own values and codes on the laws as par the requirements of their times and cultural traditions. For example Capital punishment (death penalty) was very popular among Ancient Persian and Egyptian rulers while comparatively lesser punishments such as mutilation and amputation were also awarded for what for many societies today are the most trivial of crimes.

So strict were the laws of ancient Greece that one of the most famous legislators ‘Draco” is now a byword for harsh punishment with many overly severe laws being criticized for being ‘Draconian” to this day.

Basically the core purpose of these laws was punishment to ensure that the person who had violated the law would not dare do it again. Another aspect was deterrence and this is why many ancient laws were so harsh. So that other members of society would be deterred from following in the footsteps of law breakers.

Moreover, they also were a form of revenge towards the victims who had been brutalized by law breakers.  With the help of such laws rulers ensured that peace was maintained in their borders and there would be no reason for popular uprising and revolts.

In fact, without criminal law, it would be difficult to imagine society progressing and developing into any sort of civilization.