The aim of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (“the Act”), which came into force on 8 September 1977, is to amend the law in England and Wales with regard to criminal conspiracy and replace the common law in that area. It also aims to restrict the use or threat of violence for securing entry into any premises and penalise unauthorised entry or remaining on premises in certain circumstances. It further amends the criminal law concerning the administration of criminal justice and makes amendments to various provisions including the Legal Aid Act 1974 and the law about juries and coroners’ inquests.
Section 1 - Conspiracy
The statutory offence of conspiracy which is established in section 1 of the Act provides that if a person agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct shall be pursued which, if carried out, will amount to or involve the commission of any offence by one or more of the parties or would do so but for the existence of extraneous facts which prevent the offence, then that person is guilty of the offence of conspiracy. An “offence” means any offence which is triable under the law of England and Wales. The drafting of the statutory codification of the offence of conspiracy has been subject to significant interpretation in the courts as well as academic commentary. In particular, it is argued that section 1 of the Act is not clear on what the mental element of the offence is and whether conspiracy to commit an offence can be constituted by recklessness as to some circumstances.
Section 1A of the Act was inserted by the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 and provides for the offence of conspiracy to commit offences outside England and Wales. A number of conditions apply to this offence. Most significantly, there must be an agreed course of conduct which at some stage would involve an act or the happening of some other event intended to take place outside England and Wales and the event or act or other event must constitute an offence under the law in force in that country or territory.
Section 2 - Exemptions
Section 2 of the Act provides exemptions to the crime of conspiracy. There will be no criminal offence where the only other person involved in the agreement is the individual’s spouse or civil partner, someone below the age of criminal responsibility or an intended victim of the offence in question. Under section 3 of the Act, a person may be subject to imprisonment or a fine for conspiracy, depending on the gravity of the offence. If the offence conspired to be committed is a summary offence then proceedings for conspiracy will not proceed unless with the express permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions (section 4).
Part 2 of the Act deals with offences relating to entering and remaining on property. It largely follows the recommendations of the Law Commission for England in Wales in its 1976 report on conspiracy and criminal law reform. Under section 6 of the Act, any person who, without lawful authority, uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any premises for himself or for any other person is guilty of an offence. Section 7 of the Act covers adverse occupation of residential premises and provides that an offence has been committed where a trespasser on such premises fails to leave them when required to do so by the displaced residential occupier or an individual who is a protected intending occupier of the premises. Section 8 covers trespassing with a weapon of offence and section 9 prohibits trespassing on the premises of foreign diplomatic missions.
Part 3 - Criminal procedures and penalties
Part 3 of the Act makes provisions in relation to criminal procedure and penalties. Section 15 of the Act provides that certain offences are to be triable only summarily (as opposed to being triable on indictment). Many of these offences are listed in Schedule 1 to the Act.
Certain of the provisions in Part 3 have now been repealed including the procedure for determining the mode of trial of certain offences (sections 19-26). These sections were repealed by the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
Part 4 - Miscellaneous provisions
Finally, Part 4 of the Act contains various miscellaneous provisions. Section 51 of the Act creates an offence relating to bomb hoaxes. Recently, this offence was dealt with in the case of R. v Upex  EWCA Crim 2290 in which the Court of Appeal held that a starting point of three years imprisonment was appropriate for the offence of communicating false information with intent contrary to section 51(2) of the Act.
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