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nulla poena sine lege

[Latin: no punishment without a law]
The principle that a person can only be punished for a crime if the *punishment is prescribed by law. The punishment may be specified by a statute as a term of imprisonment or fine or it may be based on common-law principles. With the exception of treason and murder, for which the punishment is fixed, all statutory punishments are expressed in terms of the maximum possible punishment; judges have discretion to impose a lesser punishment according to the circumstances. At common law punishment is said to be at large, i.e. the amount of the fine or length of the prison sentence is entirely at the judge’s discretion. In many cases, however, there are now statutes specifying the maximum punishment for common-law offences. Magistrates’ courts are subject to shorter maxima than Crown courts; they are also usually subject to a minimum sentence of five days in cases of imprisonment.

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