Document Type


Publication Date



Friday, 9 November – Saturday, 10 November, 2012
Room 1014, Ignat Kaneff Building
Osgoode Hall Law School
York University
4700 Keele Street,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3

Conference Themes

What significance does our understanding of the state have for criminal law?

  • Contemporary theorists of domestic criminal law often assume that criminalization, criminal process, adjudication, as well as sentencing are the prerogative of the state. What conceptual and normative commitments underlie such assumptions and to what extent are they sound? Are “privatization” and other kinds of “outsourcing” of criminal law related matters — for example, to international institutions — ever morally acceptable, or even desirable? Similarly, to what extent do our conceptual and normative commitments about the nature of the state and its relationship to the wider polity shape our understanding of, and the ways in which we seek to legitimize, our current criminal law practices? Should some of these commitments be revised in this unprecedented era of globalization and transnationalization, perhaps alongside related criminal law practices?
  • Many domestic criminal prohibitions are specifically directed at individuals occupying certain so-called “official” roles. Some domestic jurisdictions also recognize that “public bodies” can be held criminally liable, while others condemn and impose punitive damages for “state action” that violates constitutional rights. Does this mean that “the state” can ever intelligibly and legitimately be held criminally responsible for wrongdoing, be it as an accomplice or a principal, in the domestic context? In the same vein, whereas international crimes of states were once leading candidates for inclusion in international criminal law, and while state-like systematic and organized perpetration is required for some existing individual international crimes, contemporary international law is reluctant to recognize state crimes as a category. What should we make of this reluctance? Conversely, how should our understanding of the state shape the international criminalization of individuals?
  • And what should we think of recurring claims that when individuals in uniform, purporting to be acting in the name of the state, perpetrate crimes, the defenses available to them should differ — in terms of their conceptual and moral contours, as well as in kind — from those available to ordinary individuals? Or, more generally, insofar as the state can legitimately be criminalized, what kinds of procedural and substantive protection should be available to it?

In a world where private prisons and other forms of outsourced criminal law practices are growing at a breath-taking pace, where police brutality, state-sanctioned aggressions, killings, torture, and other forms of official wrongdoing are a commonplace, and where the name of the state is regularly brandished to immunize, legitimize, or otherwise provide a shield against criminal accountability, the time seems ripe for a sustained collective effort to demystify relevant interfaces between the state and criminal law. This conference aims at taking a first stab at this daunting yet pressing task, by bringing together many of the world’s leading legal theorists, political philosophers, and academic lawyers currently working on the issue.

Conference Program

See attached file.

Nathanson-poster-nov-2012-4.jpg (420 kB)
Conference poster