Seriousness and Severity

Andrew von Hirsch

in Censure and Sanctions

Published in print February 1996 | ISBN: 9780198262411
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191682339 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Monographs on Criminal Law and Justice

Seriousness and Severity

Show Summary Details


The principle of proportionality requires the severity of penalties to be determined by reference to the seriousness of crimes. In order to apply the principle, we need to be able to gauge how serious various crimes are, and how severe are various sanctions. The neglect is not surprising, perhaps, because attention was focused so much on the use and limits of imprisonment, and that sanction's onerousness appears measurable in large part by its duration. Now, however, there is increasing interest in non-custodial penalties, and these are more heterogeneous in character. Ordinary people, various opinion surveys have suggested, seem capable of reaching a degree of agreement on the comparative seriousness of crimes. The gravity of a crime depends upon the degree of harmfulness of the conduct, and the extent of the actor's culpability. Culpability can be gauged with the aid of clues from the substantive criminal law.

Keywords: proportionality; severity; penalties; seriousness; crimes; culpability

Chapter.  3188 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.