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Shaw v. Director of Public Prosecutions

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals. Defendant appealed because no such crime existed and as such, he cannot be convicted of conspiring to commit a nonexistent crime.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An accused cannot commit a conspiracy unless the venture he conspired to undertake is criminal and codified as such.

    Facts. After the Street Offenses Act passed in 1959, it made it difficult for prostitutes to solicit customers on the street. Defendant noting this difficulty decided to assist the prostitutes in their endeavors. Defendant published a “Ladies Directory” which listed the names, addresses and phone numbers of prostitutes with accompanying photographs. Defendant was found guilty of conspiracy to corrupt public morals, publishing obscene photographs and living off of the earning of prostitution. The Appellate Court affirmed and Defendant timely appealed.

    Issue. Is the offense of conspiracy to corrupt the public morals, although not a statutory offense, an offense that Defendant can be convicted of?

    Held. The appeal is granted.
    A conspiracy consists of agreeing or acting in concert to achieve an unlawful act or to do a lawful act by unlawful means.

    In order to extend the definition of conspiracy to Defendant, Parliament must create or extend the definition of an unlawful act.

    Dissent. The dissent focused on the fact that there could be no conviction unless 12 jurors were unanimous in the belief that Defendant did something wrong. The dissent simply glossed over the fact that the charge was not contained in the law and stated that juries would perceive prosecutions that were not genuinely and fairly warranted.

    Discussion. The House of Lords focused on the fact that English criminal law was codified. Thus, if an offense did not exist in the law, an accused could not be convicted of conspiracy to commit the nonexistent offense. The House of Lords ruled that creating new crimes is the duty of the Parliament; the court cannot make such determinations.


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