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What is a Criminal Justice Act?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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A criminal justice act is a law that governs some aspect of the criminal justice system. The majority of laws actually titled “criminal justice acts” are found throughout the United Kingdom, including in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Canada and the United States also have laws specifically titled the same way, and most other countries have similar codes, though with different titles.

Most nations have a criminal justice system that covers every aspect of crime-related state activity, from the codification of crimes to possible sentences. Criminal justice acts are frequently subject to repeal, revision, and amendments, since the justice system is ever-evolving facet of government. A criminal justice act usually comes into existence through a legislative body, such as the US Congress or the UK Parliament.

A criminal justice act may deal with the definition of crimes. Every type of crime that the state can pursue needs to be codified in some form. The “crimes” section of the US Code, which is the predominant criminal justice act in America, has 123 separate chapters that name and detail types of crimes that may be prosecuted under the law. Similar documents throughout the UK also detail hundreds of crimes, although the US uses a uniform code while UK regions may have several co-existing criminal justice acts that handle different issues. Different types of crimes found in a criminal justice act might include murder, fraud, drug trafficking, terrorist activities, and abortion.

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Another major area that a criminal justice act may provide for is the justice procedure. This includes things such as the process for obtaining and serving a warrant, defendant's rights to a speedy trial, humane treatment, and representation, and how trials and sentencing proceed. Countries that presume innocence until guilt is proven often have very strict regulations regarding the treatment and management of people on trial.

Criminal justice acts may also handle the administration of the judicial system. Sometimes called criminal justice administration acts, these statutes may regulate the amount and distribution of judges, wages for judges, bailiffs, and court officials, and the proper procedure for all judicial paperwork. While somewhat mundane, these statutes ensure that the justice system is well-staffed and organized, so it may better serve as an efficient tool of the system.

One final area that a criminal justice act may cover is the management and policies of prisons. This may include provisions to secure funds for state-supported correctional institutions, guide the administrative makeup of prison staff, and regulate the treatment of prisoners. An efficient and safe prison system is essential to ensuring both prisoner and public security.

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