Prior-fault blame in England and Wales, Germany and the Netherlands

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External organisations

  • University of Sussex
  • Maastricht University


This article explores the contested legal conceptualisation and application of “prior-fault” rules in England and Wales, Germany and the Netherlands. Prior-fault rules operate as an exception to the traditional application of criminal offences and defences, allowing a defendant’s previous conduct outside of an offence or defence definition to directly affect his or her liability. The paradigm example of this is prior-fault intoxication, where an intoxicated defendant is found liable for an offence despite lacking mental fault at the time of causing harm; with the missing mental fault effectively substituted by their previous choice to become intoxicated. However, as we discuss, prior-fault is not necessarily limited to such examples and has the potential to operate across a broad range of criminal rules. Through the comparison of jurisdictions, each with varying doctrinal applications of prior-fault, the article seeks both to better understand the concept as well as to analyse the most effective and defensible methods for its application in practice.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-86
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of International and Comparative Law (JICL)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


  • prior-fault, intoxication, insanity, constructing offences, blocking defences, incapacity, actio libera in causa, culpa in causa