Professor Nicola Lacey

Professor Nicola Lacey

School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy

LSE Law School

Room No
Cheng Kin Ku Building 6.11
English, French
Key Expertise
Criminal law & justice, feminist legal theory; biography, law & literature

About me

Nicola Lacey is School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy. 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 is also an Associate of the International Inequalities Institute at LSE, and sits on the Institute’s Steering Committee; an Affiliate of the Phelan US Centre, and sits on the Centre’s Advisory Board; and a member of the Editorial Board of the LSE Public Policy Review. She has held a number of visiting appointments, most recently at Harvard Law School and at the Australian National University.  She is an Honorary Fellow of New College Oxford and of University College Oxford; a Fellow of the British Academy;  and from 2015-19 she was 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. In 2022 she was awarded the Law and Society Association’s International Prize.

Administrative support:

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 (John Hopkins) 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. She is convenor of the Socio-Legal Studies Research Hub.


Public engagement


Estudios críticos sobre responsabilidad penal y política criminal comparada (Marcial Pons 2021)

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Tracing the Relationship between Inequality, Crime and Punishment: Space, Time and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2021) (edited by Nicola Lacey, David Soskice, Leonidas Cheliotis, and Sappho Xenakis)

The question of inequality has moved decisively to the top of the contemporary intellectual agenda. Going beyond Thomas Piketty's focus on wealth, increasing inequalities of various kinds, and their impact on social, political and economic life, now present themselves among the most urgent issues facing scholars in the humanities and the social sciences. Key among these is the relationship between inequality, crime and punishment. The propositions that social inequality shapes crime and punishment, and that crime and punishment themselves cause or exacerbate inequality, are conventional wisdom. Yet, paradoxically, they are also controversial.

In this volume, historians, criminologists, lawyers, sociologists and political scientists come together to try to solve this paradox by unpacking these relationships in different contexts. The causal mechanisms underlying these correlations call for investigation by means of a sustained programme of research bringing different disciplines to bear on the problem. This volume develops an interdisciplinary approach which builds on but goes beyond recent comparative and historical research on the institutional, cultural and political-economic factors shaping crime and punishment so as better to understand whether, and if so how and why, social and economic inequality influences levels and types of crime and punishment, and conversely whether crime and punishment shape inequalities.

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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.

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click here for papers from a symposium on In Search of Criminal Responsibility (in Critical Analysis of Law Vol. 4 (2) 2017)



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

In 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.

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click here for an article in LSE Research & Expertise

click here for an article in the Dangerous Women Project


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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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click here for an issue of feminists@law marking the 20th anniversary of Unspeakable Subjects and discussing its contemporary relevance


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)