Actus reus criminal law revision

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Actus Reus:
Prohibited conduct, circumstance, or result.
Can be an act or omission
Must be voluntary.
Law com: has called for the term actus reus to be replaced with `external
elements' and mens rea with `fault elements' to reflect better their true
Lord Diplock in Miller (1983): it would be `conducive to clarity... if we were to
avoid bad Latin and instead think and speak... about the conduct of the accused
and his state of mind at the time of that conduct instead of speaking of actus
reus and mens rea'.
Exceptions to 'act' requirement:
Situational liability ­ where D is simply in a prohibited situation:
Larsonneur: D was a French woman who had been allowed entry to the
UK. She was later subject to an immigration order requiring her to leave
the next day, whereupon she set sail to Ireland whence she was
deported back to England. On arrival in England she was charged and
Clearly her conviction occurred despite the fact her arrival in England
was no voluntary act of hers.
Possession offences ­ where D is simply in possession. It doesn't require
D voluntarily taking possession.
Warner: D had been given two boxes: one contained scent and the other
contained controlled drugs. D said he thought both boxes contained
scent. The question: whether the fact of being in possession of the box
meant D was also in possession of the contents. HoL held: in effect that
the strong presumption was that a person who was in possession of a
container was also in possession of its contents even if they were quite
different from what they were believed to be.
Omissions ­ The conduct element of the crime in question must be
capable of commission by an omission.
The circumstances must be such as to create a legal duty to act
D's failure to act must be voluntary.
There can be no liability for omissions unless prosecution can establish:
There was a duty to act:
a) Statutory duty
b) Special relationships:
Gibbins and Proctor (1918): D (V's father) and D2 (V's stepmother)
deliberately failed to feed V, who died. D and D2 were convicted of

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D owed V a duty as parent, but D2 also owed a duty as she
had assumed parental responsibility.
c) Contractual duty:
Pittwood (1902): D worked as level crossing operator. He forgot to
close the gate and V was killed by a train. The court held that D
owed a duty to all users of the crossing and not just to his
employers. Guilty of manslaughter.…read more

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HoL held: it was an omission. The true cause of the death would be the
failure to provide life-sustaining treatment.
Law Com in its Report No. 218: liability for omissions should be limited
to serious offences ­ namely: homicide, intentional serious injury,
torture, unlawful detention, kidnapping, abduction and aggravated
Also decided for the present not to try to limit the common law duties
to act which currently give rise to liability for omissions.…read more


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