Sticks, Stones and Words: Emotional Harm and the English Criminal Law

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This article discusses the rule that criminal liability does not normally attach for the causing of emotional harm or mental distress in the absence of proof of a 'recognised psychiatric injury'. It considers what is involved in the diagnosis of psychiatric injury, and to what extent the difference between such injury and 'ordinary' mental distress is one of degree rather than one of kind. It reviews the situations in which the law already criminalises the infliction of emotional harm without proof of psychiatric injury, and assesses the policy arguments for drawing the distinction in the normal case. The article concludes that the law can and should adopt a more flexible approach to cases of this sort.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-556
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Criminal Law
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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