What are the principles and values that should guide and limit the state’s use of coercive techniques in the prevention of harms?

Although many accounts have been explored (see the Preventive Justice Project, for example), very often they assume that it is the business of the state to prevent harms (or reduce the risk of harms) as much as possible. They then proceed to explore the constraints that are applicable to the state’s use of coercive techniques (e.g. criminal law) in its attempt to achieve this end. Because of this approach, what these accounts result in are constraints that are external to the preventive rationale behind the use of these techniques. Indeed, some might even conclude that there are no constraints that are internal to the preventive rationale.

The aim of this research project is precisely to revisit the above assumption and ask the following question: Why should the state prevent harms (or reduce the risks of harms)? The underlying thought is that by identifying the reason behind why the state should prevent harms – the end(s) supposedly to be achieved by preventing harms, we can then (i) have a much clearer idea of what kinds or instances of harms should the state be preventing, and when it is doing less or more than what it should be doing; but most importantly, (ii) we can derive constraints on the use of coercive techniques that are internal to the preventive rationale, by asking whether those coercive techniques contradict or undermine the end(s) supposedly to be achieved by preventing harms. The significance of this approach is that even if one finds it hard to accept external constraints on the state’s use of coercive techniques to prevent harms because they are external to the preventive rationale behind them, they cannot resist these internal constraints on pain of contradicting or undermining the preventive rationale itself.

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