Professor Nicola Lacey
London School of Economics

"From Moll Flanders to Tess of the D’Urbervilles:
Women, Autonomy and Criminal Responsibility
in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century England"

March 8, 2007
5:00 pm
Bennett Lecture Hall
Flavelle House - Faculty of Law
78 Queen's Park

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are generally characterised as an era of slow but – at least from the latter part of the Eighteenth Century – steady progress in the English criminal justice system from an ‘ancien regime’ characterised by widespread discretion, unevenness and brutality, to a system based on principles of individual responsibility, uniformity and ideals of civilisation.  It is less often noticed that this era of ‘modernisation’ also marked a steady decline in the proportion of women tried as defendants in criminal cases.  Notwithstanding the late Victorians’ intense anxiety about female crime, the best available estimates suggest that whereas at the start of the Eighteenth Century, women constituted  between one third and two fifths of felony defendants, this had dropped to about one tenth by the end of the Nineteenth Century.   Drawing on images of women’s criminal responsibility in contemporary novels, the lecture will explore the relationship between the striking decline in female involvement in the English criminal process, changing ideas of women’s capacities and proper role in economy and society, and the development of legal conceptions of responsibility based on defendants’ capacities and subjective mental states.

Nicola Lacey is Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the London School of Economics.  She previously held appointments at New College, Oxford and at Birkbeck College, and has held visiting appointments at New York University, Yale University, the Australian National University, the Humboldt University and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.  She is a Fellow of the British Academy. 

Her most recent book, A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream (Oxford University Press 2004) was awarded the Swiney Prize and was shortlisted for the British Academy Book Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography.  She works in the broad fields of criminal justice and legal and social theory, and is the author of State Punishment (Routledge 1988) and Unspeakable Subjects: Feminist Essays in Legal and Social Theory (Hart Publishing 1998), as well as co-author of The Politics of Community (with Elizabeth Frazer: Harvester Wheatsheaf/University of Toronto Press 1993) and Reconstructing Criminal Law (with Celia Wells and Oliver Quick: Third Edition, Cambridge University Press 2003).

She currently holds a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, and is working on a cross-disciplinary study of the development of ideas of responsibility for crime since the Eighteenth Century