Linking legal system when laws were mostly based

Linking crime with morality, Garafalo, an eminent Italian criminologist observed that “crime is an immoral and harmful act that is regarded as criminal by public opinion because it is an injury to so much of the moral sense as is possessed by a community.”

The perception of crime as an immoral act had its roots in the medieval legal system when laws were mostly based on religious precepts and the State was subordinated to the temporal power. The Penal Code was considered as a body of ethical rules making all immoral acts punishable.

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But with the change in time and advance of legal science, the social norms too have radically changed. Therefore, now a crime is defined as an act forbidden and punishable by law and it is immaterial whether such an act is moral or immoral from the ethical point of view. No doubt, most of the immoral acts which were traditionally considered as crime are treated as crime even today, but there are a number of conducts which though immoral are not considered as crime.

For example, ingratitude, callous disregard for sufferings of others, hard-heartedness etc. are not regarded as crime though they are against morality. It would be pertinent to quote the observations made by the authors of the Indian Penal Code in this regard:—

“Many things which are not punishable are morally worse than many things which are punishable. The man who treats a generous benefactor with gross ingratitude and insolence deserves more severe reprehension than the man who aims a blow in passion, or breaks a window in a frolic; yet we have punishment for assault and mischief, and none for ingratitude. The rich man who refuses a mouthful of rice to save a fellow-creature from death may be far worse than the starving wretch who snatches and devours the rice; yet we punish the latter for theft, and we do not punish the former for hard-heartedness.”

It would, therefore, be seen that if the social expediency along with some other factors which makes an act a ‘crime’ it is not material whether that act is moral or immoral.