A key idea in the sociology of crime and deviance is that crime is socially constructed which means that whether an act is criminal or not is determined by social processes. In the case of crime, the introduction of new Acts of Parliament which change the law constantly change the nature of crime.
As a result, there are many things that were not illegal in the past which are criminal and thus illegal now.
A brief timeline of some recent changes to the law illustrate this…
1973 – Motorcycle helmets made compulsory
Before 1973 it was perfectly legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not so from 1973.
1991 – rape within marriage made illegal.
Previous to this it was held that men could not rape women within marriage, because the marriage union was equivalent to consensual sex at any time. The illegality of rape within marriage was not formalised until the 2003 sexual offenses act.
Source: The Week
1994 – informally organised Raves made illegal (sort of)
In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was aimed at clamping down on anti-social behaviour. It effectively gave the police new powers to break up raves, or any informally arranged gathering of 100 or more people listening to music involving a series of repetitive beats.
The 1992 Castlemorton rave, the biggest ever informally organised rave in British history, is one of the events that led to the establishment of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Anti-Social Behaviour Act…
NB the act didn’t technically make it illegal for you and your mates to organise a rave, it just makes it easier for the police to break them up, slap an injunction order on you, and then arrest you the next time for breaking the injunction order.
This notorious act also made it easier for the police to break up road protests, move on travellers and arrest hunt saboteurs.
2007 – the smoking ban
Made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places such as public transport and bars.
2016 – The Psychoactive Substance Act
In 2016 the selling of so called ‘legal high’s such as Spice was made illegal through the the psychoactive substance act
Acts restricting (or allowing) the use of psychoactive substances are useful examples in themselves to illustrate how ‘crime’ is socially constructed. While the UK has been toughening up its drug laws increasing numbers of states in America have been making the growing and sale of cannabis legal.
2020 – parents to be banned from smacking children in Wales (probably )
Smacking your children isn’t illegal in England, at least as long as you don’t leave any physical signs of bruising on them, but there is currently an act going through the Welsh parliament that aims to ban the physical punishment of children by parents outright. It looks set to pass at some point in near future.
Putting it all together…
So in 1972 you could have drunk a couple of pints in the pub while smoking (in the pub), organised an attended a quick Rave with your mates with all of you high on Spice (or whatever so called ‘legal highs’ existed in 1972), ridden back home on your bike without your helmet on (assuming you were within the drink driving limits) and then forced yourself on your wife without her explicit consent, and non of that would have been illegal, thus you would have committed no crime.
At out the same scenario today and you’d be breaking multiple laws and looking at a lengthy jail term.
NB this post makes no judgement about the morality of any of the above acts or laws, it’s merely to highlight the extent to which crime is socially constructed.
Further info/ find out more…