Nullum Crimen Sine Lege | Nicola Perugini

Literally speaking, this Latin expression, deriving from Roman law and absorbed within many Western and non-Western codes, means “no crime without correspondent law”. The axiom nullum crimen sine lege is conventionally adopted and assumed as the basis of modern criminal legislation. The axiom has also a disciplinary nature. Indeed, its ultimate nature is a liberal-disciplinary one. It is fundamentally a form of regulation of the mechanisms of punishment –the full version of the axiom in fact reads: nullum crimen, nulla peona sine lege: no crime, no punishment without law. It is in reality one of the very foundations of the economy of crime and punishment. It is conceived as an instrument for the governing of the subjects composing and living in society. To quote the American jurist Glaser: “It is an old and proven truth that one can keep the people in obedience[Italic mine] only when orders are clear and intelligible”. Where law is clear and articulated thoroughly, when the space of law is solidly thick and wide, evil is supposed to be prevented and obedience/authority respected –and the evil of punishment is perpetrated according to necessity: the necessity of law.

Using a spatial metaphor, this means that only when an act falls into the space of law –into its thickness– law and its derived mechanisms of punishment can be applied to it. My proposal is to transfer the principle of nullum crimen sine lege into spatial orders and regimes. What if we reverse the problem of the thickness, and we took into consideration the anomic space of the sine lege instead of the space of the lege? If we consider this anomic thickness as a limes –and criminal cases have often to do with the spaces in which they are committed, spaces which until the final judgments remain somehow liminal (at the border between guilt and innocence) and anomic, and that only the law can make nomic– would we use the expression nullum limes sine lege? What does it mean to generate practices within anomic states and spaces? What is that human condition of null-ity in which actions and absence of the law coincide? What happens when this theoretical problem is transferred into the materiality of an anomic space?