Nicola Lacey

Administrative support: Rachel Yarham
Room: New Academic Building 6.12
Tel. 020-3486-2966

Nicola Lacey is School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy, attached to the Departments of Law and Social Policy and to the Gender Institute. From 1998 to 2010 she held a Chair in Criminal Law and Legal Theory at LSE; she returned to LSE in 2013 after spending three years as Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, and Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the University of Oxford. She has held a number of visiting appointments, most recently at Harvard Law School.  She is an Honorary Fellow of New College Oxford and of University College Oxford; a Fellow of the British Academy; and a member of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum. In 2011 she was awarded the Hans Sigrist Prize by the University of Bern for outstanding scholarship on the function of the rule of law in late modern societies and in 2017 she was awarded a CBE for services to Law, Justice and Gender Politics.

see also Full Curriculum Vitae

see also Interviews with Nicola Lacey on Philosophy Bites


Research Interests

Nicola's research is in criminal law and criminal justice, with a particular focus on comparative and historical scholarship. Over the last few years, she has been working on the development of ideas of criminal responsibility in England since the 18th Century, and on the comparative political economy of punishment. In addition to her independent work in these fields, she is currently working with David Soskice (LSE) on American Exceptionalism in crime, punishment, and social policy; and with Hanna Pickard (Oxford) on how criminal justice institutions may be designed so as to hold offenders responsible without engaging in stigmatising blame. Nicola also has research interests in legal and social theory, in feminist analysis of law, in law and literature, and in biography.



In Search of Criminal Responsibility: Ideas, Interests and Institutions (Oxford University Press, 2016)

What makes someone responsible for a crime and therefore liable to punishment under the criminal law? Modern lawyers will quickly and easily point to the criminal law's requirement of concurrent actus reus and mens rea, doctrines of the criminal law which ensure that someone will only be found criminally responsible if they have committed criminal conduct while possessing capacities of understanding, awareness, and self-control at the time of offense. Any notion of criminal responsibility based on the character of the offender, meaning an implication of criminality based on reputation or the assumed disposition of the person, would seem to today's criminal lawyer a relic of the 18th Century. In this volume, Nicola Lacey demonstrates that the practice of character-based patterns of attribution was not laid to rest in 18th Century criminal law, but is alive and well in contemporary English criminal responsibility-attribution.

Women, Crime and Character: From Moll Flanders to Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Oxford University Press 2008) (The Clarendon Law Lectures)

Women, Crime and Character - coverIn the early 18th Century, Daniel Defoe found it natural to write a novel whose heroine was a sexually adventurous, socially marginal property offender. Only half a century later, this would have been next to unthinkable. Lacey explores the disappearance of Moll, and her supercession in the annals of literary female offenders by heroines like Tess, serving as a metaphor for fundamental changes in ideas of selfhood, gender and social order in 18th and 19th Century England. Drawing on law, literature, philosophy and social history, she argues that these broad changes underpinned a radical shift in mechanisms of responsibility-attribution, with decisive implications for the criminalisation of women.

The Prisoners' Dilemma Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies (CUP 2008) (The Hamlyn Lectures)

Over the last two decades, and in the wake of increases in recorded crime and other social changes, British criminal justice policy has become increasingly politicised as an index of governments’ competence. New and worrying developments, such as the inexorable rise of the US prison population and the rising force of penal severity, seem unstoppable in the face of popular anxiety about crime. But is this inevitable? Nicola Lacey argues that harsh ‘penal populism’ is not the inevitable fate of all contemporary democracies. Notwithstanding a degree of convergence, globalisation has left many of the key institutional differences between national systems intact, and these help to explain the striking differences in the capacity for penal tolerance in otherwise relatively similar societies. Only by understanding the institutional preconditions for a tolerant criminal justice system can we think clearly about the possible options for reform within particular systems. 

A Life of HLA Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream (OUP 2004) (Winner of the RSA’s Swiney Prize 2004 and shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography and for the British Academy Book Prize.)

An intellectual and psychological biography of the famous legal philosopher, HLA Hart. Winner of the RSA’s Swiney Prize 2004 and shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography and for the British Academy Book Prize.

Regulating Law edited by Christine Parker, Colin Scott, Nicola Lacey and John Braithwaite (edited collection including introduction co-authored with the other editors) (OUP 2004)

A collaborative project across ANU RegNet and LSE: socio-legal essays developing the methodology of Hugh Collins’ Regulating Contracts across a range of common law fields.

Reconstructing Criminal Law (3rd Edition) Nicola Lacey, Celia Wells, Oliver Quick  (Law in Context Series, 1990; second edition with Celia Wells, Butterworths 1998; third edition with Celia Wells and Oliver Quick, Cambridge University Press 2003.)

Reconstructing Criminal Law provides a radical and stimulating alternative to the standard black letter criminal law text. The authors analyse central aspects of criminal law in the context of the assumptions surrounding it, and employ a number of critical approaches, including a feminist perspective to give insights into the current state of the law. A comprehensive resource - it contains extracts that cover a wide range of materials from historical, political, sociological and philosophical sources and discusses offences considered to be at the margins of criminal law. It also offers an important practical element whereby students and teachers can attempt to answer the questions that the criminal justice system confronts on a daily basis.

Unspeakable subjects : Feminist Essays in Legal and Social Theory  (Hart Publishing, 1998)

Nicola Lacey’s book presents a feminist critique of law based on an analysis of the ways in which the very structure or method of modern law is gendered. All of the essays in the book therefore engage at some level with the question of whether there are things of a general nature to be said about what might be called the sex or gender of law. Ranging across fields including criminal law, public law and anti-discrimination law, the essays examine the conceptual framework of modern legal practices: the legal conception of the subject as an individual; the concepts of equality, freedom, justice and rights; and the legal construction of public and private realms and of the relations between individual, state and community. They also reflect upon the deployment of law as a means of furthering feminist ethical and political values. At a more general level, the essays contemplate the relationship between feminist and other critical approaches to legal theory; the relationship between the ideas underlying feminist legal theory and those informing contemporary developments in social and political theory; and the nature of the relationship between feminist legal theories and feminist legal politics.

The Politics of Community: A Feminist Analysis of the Liberal-Communitarian Debate, Nicola Lacey, Elizabeth Frazer (Harvester Wheatsheaf/University of Toronto Press, 1993)

State Punishment: Political Principles and Community Values (Routledge, 1988)

Criminal Justice: A Reader, Oxford University Press 1994 (edited collection: original introduction, pp. 1-36)

Selected articles
and chapters in books

‘Socializing the Subject of Criminal Law: Criminal Responsibility and the Purposes of Criminalization’ (2016) 99 (3) Marquette Law Review 541-57

'Gamblers and Gentlefolk: Money, Law and Status in Trollope’s England' LSE Law Society and Economy Working Paper Series, 03-2016

This paper examines the range of very different conceptions of money and its legal and social significance in the novels of Anthony Trollope, considering what they can tell us about the rapidly changing economic, political and social world of mid Victorian England. It concentrates in particular on Orley Farm (1862) — the novel most directly concerned with law among Trollope's formidable output — and The Way We Live Now (1875) — the novel most directly concerned with the use and abuse of money in the early world of financial capitalism. The paper sets the scene by sketching the main critiques of money in the history of the novel. Drawing on a range of literary examples, it notes that these critiques significantly predate the development of industrial let alone financial capitalism. Probably the deepest source of ambivalence about money in the novel has to do with 'commodification'. As this concern unfolds in Trollope, it tells us a great deal about changing conceptions of property in a world in which industrial capitalism sat alongside practices of speculative investment geared simply to the multiplication of money. Trollope's nostalgia for the world of land sits alongside an increasingly sharp critique of the power of money, and these novels illuminate the rapidly changing economic, political and social world of mid Victorian England. They also speak, as it were, volumes on the relative effectiveness of the different regulatory resources which can be brought to bear upon each form of wealth. And they open some fascinating windows on the gendering of both money and law as concepts in the later Victorian imagination.

'The metaphor of proportionality' Journal of Law and Society (2016) 43 (1) pp.27-44

Analyses the notion of "proportionality" as a legal metaphor, focusing on its use in criminal justice. Examines the history of appeals to proportionality in law, politics and culture, across jurisdictional boundaries and in respect of different subject matter. Assesses the ideological content of the proportionality metaphor.

'Responsibility without Consciousness'  Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (2015)

This paper addresses the relationship between responsibility and consciousness, in the light of both H.L.A. Hart’s and subsequent philosophical analysis. First, is consciousness necessary to responsibility-attribution? If so, how demanding a requirement is this? And does it make sense to pose these questions in the abstract? Second, when we move from the realm of moral argumentation to that of law, are there additional factors – institutional, functional, practical or otherwise – which alter the weight or implications of the argument? Third, conversely, what can moral philosophers learn from the way in which the issue of consciousness is dealt with in legal mechanisms of responsibility-attribution? The paper concludes that, in both law and morality, the conditions of responsibility are standards which are constructed and deployed within particular social practices and institutions for certain purposes. Hence the dominant issues underlying questions ostensibly about consciousness are evaluative questions about appropriate standards in particular contexts, in the light of the social functions and meaning of criminalisation; of a finding of responsibility in civil law; or of moral responsibility-attribution. 

(with David Soskice) ‘Crime, punishment and segregation in the United States: The paradox of local democracy’ Punishment & Society 2015, Vol. 17(4) 454-481

Patterns of crime and punishment in the USA greatly magnify corresponding developments in other liberal market economies – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK – faced with similar broad macro-technological transformations, namely the collapse of Fordism in the 1970s and 1980s and the development of knowledge economies in the 1990s and 2000s. In this article, we set out the case for seeing these differences as largely the product of dynamics shaped by the institutional structure of the US political system. We focus on the exceptional direct and indirect role of local democracy in key policy areas including law and order and beyond that in residential zoning, in public education and in incorporation of suburbs, which has no parallel in the other Anglo-Saxon polities, and which magnifies through residential and educational segregation and concentrated poverty the social problems caused by socio-economic developments.

See also
A short video for the US Centre on US Criminal Justice [LSE] [YouTube]

‘Jurisprudence, History, and the Institutional Quality of Law’, 101 Virginia Law Review (2015) 919-45

After setting out some of the key ways in which the intellectual lines of history and jurisprudence intersect, this paper approaches the question of whether, and why, ‘history deserves a more central place in jurisprudential thinking’ in terms of a broad understanding of law as having a fundamental institutional dimension, as well as being a product of social power and interests. Since law realises itself in terms of intersecting institutional arrangements, and since these change over time, institutional history is central to the very idea of law which jurisprudence aspires to illuminate. Moreover the history of institutions is fundamental not only to positive jurisprudence but also to normative jurisprudence: historically specific understandings of law and legality structure the conditions of existence for the realisation of moral or political ideals in and of law.

(with Hanna Pickard) ‘To Blame or to Forgive? Reconciling Punishment and Forgiveness in Criminal Justice’ Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (2015)

What do you do when faced with wrongdoing—do you blame or do you forgive? Especially when confronted with offences that lie on the more severe end of the spectrum and cause terrible psychological or physical trauma or death, nothing can feel more natural than blame. Indeed, in the UK and the USA, increasingly vehement and righteous public expressions of blame and calls for vengeance have become commonplace; correspondingly, contemporary penal philosophy has witnessed a resurgence of the retributive tradition, in the modern form usually known as the ‘justice’ model. On the other hand, people can and routinely do forgive others, even in cases of severe crime. Evolutionary psychologists argue that both vengeance and forgiveness are universal human adaptations that have evolved as alternative responses to exploitation, and, crucially, strategies for reducing risk of re-offending. We are naturally endowed with both capacities: to blame and retaliate, or to forgive and seek to repair relations. Which should we choose? Drawing on evolutionary psychology, we offer an account of forgiveness and argue that the choice to blame, and not to forgive, is inconsistent with the political values of a broadly liberal society and can be instrumentally counter-productive to reducing the risk of future re-offending. We then sketch the shape of penal philosophy and criminal justice policy and practice with forgiveness in place as a guiding ideal.

(with Hanna Pickard) ‘The Chimera of Proportionality: Institutionalising Limits on Punishment in Contemporary Social and Political Systems’ Modern Law Review (2015) 78(2) pp.216-240

Examines proportionality as a central concept in the revival of retributivism, or "just deserts", as a punishment theory. Challenges claims that punishment is limited by proportionality.

Book Review: Preventive Justice by Andrew Ashworth and Lucia Zedner (Oxford University Press, 2014) British Journal of Criminology (2015)

'"Legal education as training for hierarchy" revisited' Transnational Legal Theory (2014) 5 (4), pp.596-600

Reflects on how Duncan Kennedy's 1982 essay "Legal education and the reproduction of hierarchy" resonated with the author's experience as a law school teacher in the UK in the 1980s and influenced her later academic career.

Zelia Gallo, Nicola Lacey and David Soskice. 2014. 'Comparing Serious Violent Crime in the US and England and Wales: Why It Matters, and How It Can Be Done.' LSE Legal Studies Working Papers no. 16/2014

Comparative analysis of violent crime is hampered by a lack of reliable statistics, even between relatively similar countries, with doubts about existing studies suggesting that further comparative data is needed. Violent crime presents particular problems of variation in offence definition and recording practices. We can, however, derive reasonably valid comparative data for the US and England and Wales for the narrower category of serious violent crime. We show broadly that the incidence of serious violent crime per capita is between three and seven times as high in the US as in England and Wales. This parallels the comparative data on homicide; existing comparisons with Canada and New Zealand lend further weight to the claim that levels of serious violence in the US are distinctively high.

‘Community, Culture and Criminalization’, in Will Kymlicka, Claes Lernestedt and Matt Matravers (eds.) Criminal Law and Cultural Diversity (OUP 2014) 47-66

‘The Path Not Taken: H.L.A. Hart’s Harvard Essay on Discretion’ 127 Harvard Law Review (2013) 636-51

‘What constitutes criminal law?’, in R.A Duff, L. Farmer, S. Marshall, M. Renzo and V. Tadros (eds.) The Constitution of the Criminal Law (Oxford University Press 2013) pp. 12-29

‘Comparative Criminal Justice: An Institutional Approach’, (2014) 24 Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law pp.501-527

'Justice redefined - or justice diluted?' Family Law 2014 44 (May) pp.593-595  

Comments on the analogies between the changes to legal aid across family law, criminal law and immigration law. Considers how the removal of legal aid will affect access to justice in those three areas. Discusses how the restructuring of access to justice is presented as necessary for economic reasons but suggests that the changes represent an abandonment of the welfare conception of justice.

'The rule of law and the political economy of criminalisation: An agenda for research', Punishment and Society, October 2013 vol. 15 no. 4 pp.349-366

This article argues for an institutional approach to criminalisation scholarship, drawing on historical and comparative methodologies, and on the resources of several disciplines including law, sociology and political science. It goes on to sketch the sort of research agenda which is implied by that approach, with a view to laying the intellectual building blocks for a broad political economy of criminalisation within modern societies committed to the Rechsstaat/rule of law. The article describes how this framework developed out of recent work in the apparently discrete fields of historical and of comparative studies, of doctrinal analysis of criminal law, and of socio-political analysis of criminal punishment in modern societies. The main outlines of these projects are set out in the first part of the article, which then moves on to consider how they may be brought into dialogue so as to inform the construction of a further research agenda. This agenda, which seeks to contribute to the building of a general understanding of the place of criminalisation and punishment within the governance frameworks of various kinds of social order which share a commitment to Rechtsstaat/rule of law ideals, is sketched in the third part of the paper. In conclusion, the article argues that such a research agenda implies an expansive conception of punishment and society scholarship.

With David Soskice, ‘Why are the Truly Disadvantaged American, when the UK is Bad Enough? A political economy analysis of local autonomy in criminal justice, education, residential zoning ‘ (2013) Law Society Economy Working Papers no. 11

‘Institutionalising Responsibility: Implications for Jurisprudence’ (2013) 4(1) Jurisprudence 1-19

In this paper, the author suggest that the historical and institutional conditions of existence of the concepts which animate legal argumentation - like the historical and institutional conditions of existence of certain forms of law - are of interest not only in their own right, but also because they raise methodological issues for jurisprudence. These include questions about the relationship between concepts and the social phenomena which they purport to categorise; about the relationship between philosophical and other forms of legal theory; and about how a jurisprudence largely dominated by philosophical methods may be brought into productive dialogue with other forms of theoretical analysis. Only by broadening both its horizons and its methods, the author argues, will jurisprudence be capable of illuminating not only doctrinal analysis within particular jurisdictions at particular times, but also comparative and historical scholarship.

‘Humanizing the Criminal Justice Machine: Re-Animated Justice or Frankenstein’s Monster?’ (2013) 126:5 Harvard Law Review 1299-1324 (review article)

‘Could He Forgive Her? Gender, Agency and Women’s Criminality in the Novels of Anthony Trollope’, in Martha C. Nussbaum and Alison Lacroix (eds.), Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law and the British Novel (Oxford University Press 2013) pp. 176-204

With Hanna Pickard, ‘From the Consulting Room to the Court Room? Taking the Clinical Model of Responsibility Without Blame into the Legal Realm’ (2012) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 33 (1): 1-29.

Within contemporary penal philosophy, the view that punishment can only be justified if the offender is a moral agent who is responsible and hence blameworthy for their offence is one of the few areas on which a consensus prevails. In recent literature, this precept is associated with the retributive tradition, in the modern form of ‘just deserts’. Turning its back on the rehabilitative ideal, this tradition forges a strong association between the justification of punishment, the attribution of responsible agency in relation to the offence, and the appropriateness of blame. By contrast, effective clinical treatment of disorders of agency employs a conceptual framework in which ideas of responsibility and blameworthiness are clearly separated from what we call ‘affective blame’: the range of hostile, negative attitudes and emotions that are typical human responses to criminal or immoral conduct. We argue that taking this clinical model of ‘responsibility without blame’ into the legal realm offers new possibilities. Theoretically, it allows for the reconciliation of the idea of ‘just deserts’ with a rehabilitative ideal in penal philosophy. Punishment can be reconceived as consequences—typically negative but occasionally not, so long as they are serious and appropriate to the crime and the context—imposed in response to, by reason of, and in proportion to responsibility and blameworthiness, but without the hard treatment and stigma typical of affective blame. Practically, it suggests how sentencing and punishment can better avoid affective blame and instead further rehabilitative and related ends, while yet serving the demands of justice.

‘Political Systems and Criminal Justice: The Prisoners' Dilemma After the Coalition’ Current Legal Problems 2012 65 (1) pp.203-239.

In this article, building on an argument sketched in my The Prisoners' Dilemma (2008), I explore the ways in which the institutional structure of political systems shapes the politics of criminal justice. In particular, I set out an argument as to why coalition politics might be thought, other things being equal, to facilitate stability and moderation in criminal justice policy. In the second part of the article, I examine some recent case studies in the impact of coalition politics on criminal justice policy-making, and show how a close analysis of the move to proportional representation in New Zealand and Scotland, and the unusual period of coalition government at Westminster, refines our understanding of the ways in which institutional arrangements such as the electoral system, the party system and the dynamics of bargaining under conditions of coalition government affect the environment for criminal justice policy-making. In the final section, I engage in some predictions about the likely fate of penal moderation under coalition politics in England and Wales.

‘Punishment in the Perspective of Comparative Political Economy’ (‘Bestrafung in der Perspektive der Komparativen Politischen Ökonomie’) 44 Kriminologische Journal (2012) 9-31

‘Punishment, (Neo)Liberalism and Social Democracy’, in Jonathan Simon and Richard Sparks (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Punishment and Society (Sage Publishing 2012) pp. 260-280

‘Principles, Policies and Politics of Criminal Law’, in Julian Roberts and Lucia Zedner (eds.), Principles and Values in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice (Oxford University Press 2012) pp. 19-35

With Lucia Zedner, ‘Legal Constructions of Crime’ in M Maguire, R Morgan, and R Reiner, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (5th edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012) pp.159-81.

‘The Way We Lived Then: The Legal Profession and the Nineteenth Century Novel’, 33 Sydney Law Review (2011) 599-621

‘Community, Culture and Criminalisation’, in Crime, Punishment and Responsibility: The Jurisprudence of Antony Duff, edited by Rowan Cruft, Matthew H. Kramer and Mark R. Reiff, (Oxford University Press 2011) pp. 292-310.

‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Political Systems: The Impact of Proportional Representation on Criminal Justice in New Zealand’ (2011) Victoria University of Wellington Law Review 1-23