Reforming the criminal law for users of mobility aids

In the 2019 Milestone Lecture, Dr Rachel Clement Tolley argues that we must reject a purely biological definition of the ‘body’ so that the criminal law appropriately recognises, respects and protects all bodies, including those of people with disabilities.

Dr Marie Tidball (2002, acrylic on canvass, 'A life in limbs that aren't my own')

Despite the voluminous critical literature on the non-fatal, non-sexual offences against the person, including the 2015 Law Commission reform proposals, the application of these offences to the bodies of users of mobility aids has been overlooked.

If D deliberately strikes V’s prosthetic leg and breaks it, and D intends to damage only the prosthetic leg, D is not liable for any serious offence against the person. Whilst the law of battery does extend to unlawful contact with a person’s mobility aid, and so would capture this scenario, the law as it currently stands fails to characterise accurately both the severity of the harm sustained by V and the nature and gravity of the wrong committed by D.

Drawing on phenomenology, medical and psychological research, and critical disability studies, I argue that we must reject a definition of the ‘body’ that is constrained by traditionally understood ‘biological’ boundaries. Only by reimagining the body in this way can the criminal law appropriately recognise, respect and protect all bodies, including those of people with disabilities.

Watch the 2019 Milestone Lecture:

The opinions expressed in this lecture are the presenter’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Trinity Hall.

Top image: Dr Marie Tidball (2002, acrylic on canvass, ‘A life in limbs that aren’t my own’)
Dr Marie Tidball is the Coordinator of the Oxford University Disability Law and Policy Project, and an Oxford City Councillor. Dr Tolley first presented an earlier draft of this research at a conference to launch the project in 2018 and she remains involved with its activities.