Revision notes on Criminal Law Actus Reus. Suitable for AS Law.

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  • Created on: 21-01-08 09:36
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The Actus Reus is the external elements of the offence, it may be and act or an omission
(failure to act)
It is specific to each individual offence however some offences share the same Actus Reus
e.g. Murder and Manslaughter
The Actus Reus is found in the definition of the offence
The definition identifies: prohibited conduct
&/orspecified circumstances
&/orspecified consequences
e.g. Definition of murder:
`Unlawful killing of another human being carried out under the Queens
peace with malice aforethought'
Definition of theft:
`Dishonest appropriation of property belonging to someone else with
intention for permanent deprivation'
Criminal offences can be divided into 2 types:
Result crimes
Conduct crimes
Notice above that the definition of murder contains a consequence/result (death). Murder is
therefore a result crime
Theft on the other hand does not have a specified result theft has a set conduct
(appropriation) that must be carried by D for the Actus Reus to be complete. Theft is a
conduct crime.
Conduct covers both acts and omissions
With acts D's act must be voluntary i.e. it must be carried out under the control and
direction of D's conscious mind
If the act is involuntary D may raise the defence of automatism
Omissions occur where D's failure to act completes the Actus Reus of the offence
In general there is no obligation to act to save/prevent harm to others
Therefore Actus Reus by omission is an exception to the general principle
A failure to act may comprise the Actus Reus if:
it is possible to commit the offence by omission according to the definition of the
&D is under a legal duty to act imposed by common law/statute
D is under a legal duty to act:
common law: contract
public office
assumption of responsibility

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D's breach of contract creates a risk to the public (Pittwood 1902)
(1)R v Pittwood (1902) ­ Breached contract by failing to close crossing gate
(2)Airedale NHS Trust v Bland (1993) ­ Doctors turning off life support
Public Office:
This is where D's public office carries a duty to act
(3)R v Dytham (1979) ­ Going off duty police officer
This is where D's relationship to V imposes a duty to act.…read more

Page 3

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It is up to the prosecution to prove that the required consequence came about as a result of
D's actions i.e.…read more

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Where there is an intervening act between D's conduct and the result D should not be
criminally liable for the result
Events which may break the chain of causation are:
Naturally occurring events
Third party conduct
negligent medical treatment
actions/reactions of V
Naturally Occurring Events:
These must be unforeseeable i.e. D could not have predicted the event at the time of
committing the offence
The event (e.g.…read more

Page 5

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(20)R v Dear (1996) ­ V refused medical treatment and worsened wounds
Under the thin skull rule defendants must take their victim as they find them.…read more


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