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Unit 2: Underlying principles of a criminal liability
Actus Reus is the guilty act of a crime; it is the voluntary deliberate act of the defendant.
The act of a defendant comprises of the following:
It is unlawful
The act has the consequence of causing an injury to the victim
The law classifies the injury as a wound or a grievous bodily harm (GBH)
Example: The act can be a punch, a shot from a gun or hitting with an iron bar.
All these acts are voluntary and deliberate of the defendant therefore would form s20 of the
Offences against the Persons Act 1861.
An involuntary act can be performed by anyone. The Hills V Baxter (1958) shows where the Courts
gave examples of situations where a driver of a car is not driving voluntarily, including being stung by
a swarm of bees or being hit over the head.
Cases such as these would not form the Actus Reus on the basis that they were of involuntary action.
Example: If a person of strong physicality is to hold a knife in the hand of a person with weaker
physicality and then stab a person, then the weaker person would not be guilty as the act was not
a voluntary deliberate act.
An omission, being a failure to act, is not an act. The law only makes a person liable in the case that
they had the duty to act and they failed to do so.
These types of duties can arise in five types of situations:
a) A person's contract requires them to act
Pittwood (1902): In this case, Pittwood, a gatekeeper at a railway crossing, went for lunch leaving
the gate open for the railway crossing. This resulted in cart which was crossing the line to be hit by a
train leading to a death of a man. Pittwood was convicted of manslaughter, due to his failure to carry
out his duty to close the gate when a train approached. The duty to close the gate was a part of his
contract. The criminal liability for an omission arose as the defendant failed to act as required.
b) A person's public position requires them to act
Dytham (1979): In this case, a uniformed police officer saw a man being kicked, who eventually died.
He did not do anything to prevent the attack. He was convicted of the offence of misconduct in a
public office; he had neglected to help protect the victim. There was a liability for an omission as the
person's public position required them to act but they failed to do so.
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An act of Parliament requires a person to act
A person is required to provide care for a child under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
The failure to do so will result in an omission as they are bound by law to do something and they have
d) A person fails to minimise the harmful consequences of his act
Miller (1983): In this case, Miller, a squatter, failed to put out a fire which went on to damage the