a1 Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford. I am grateful to participants in a seminar at Caius College, Cambridge for comments which helped me to improve this paper in several respects. For their detailed criticisms of subsequent drafts, I would also like to thank Simon Gardner, Stephen Gough, Tony Honore, Jeremy Horder, Stephen Shute, and Emma Young.
The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is much disparaged by today's criminal lawyers. Its provisions have been described as “impenetrable” by the Court of Appeal. The House of Lords could not conceal its dissatisfaction with what is called “the irrational result of this piecemeal legislation”. Andrew Ashworth has written of the “antiquated and illogical structure” of an Act which the Law Commission regards as “unsatisfactory in very many respects”. Most recently Brooke J., launching the latest version of the Commission's reform package, lambasted the operation of the 1861 Act as “a disgrace”, and claimed that this hostile view is shared in every corner of the criminal justice system.