Attempted Crimes Booklet

Full notes on attempted crimes, including case studies 

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Definition of `attempt'
`Attempt' is now defined by s1 (1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.
As with all offences the prosecution must prove the actus reus and the mens rea. The definition above sets these
out. They are:
Actus reus ­ a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence
Mens rea ­ with intent to commit that offence.
Actus reus of attempt
Before `attempt' was defined in the 1981 Act, the courts used several different tests to decide whether the
defendant had actually done enough towards the commission of the main offence for him to have committed the
actus reus. The main tests where:
The `last act' test: had D done the last act he could do before committing the main crime?
The `proximity' test: were the defendant's acts so immediately connected to the actus reus of the offence as to
justify liability for attempt?
The courts have held that these common-law tests are irrelevant, the important point being whether the defendant
has done an act which is `more than merely preparatory' to the commission of the main offence.
`More than merely preparatory'
The act that the defendant commits has to be more than merely preparation for the main crime. Some acts are
obviously mere preparation, but other acts are more difficult to categorise. Let's take the example where D decides
to rob a bank. First, he buys himself a shotgun and converts it into a sawn-off shotgun. Both the buying and converting
are `merely preparatory'. Next, he drives around the area, checking escape routes. Again, this is `merely
preparatory'. On the day of the robbery, D steals a car (`merely preparatory') and drives to the bank (still `merely
preparatory'). He stands on the pavement outside the bank, carrying the sawn-off shotgun in a bag. It isn't until he
walks into the bank that it has gone more than merely preparatory.
There have been many cases on the meaning of `merely preparatory'. It is difficult to draw any general principle from
them. In Attorney-General's Reference (No 1 of 1992) (1993) it was decided that D need not have performed the
last act before the crime proper nor need he have reached the `point of no return'.
In Gullefer (1987) the Court of Appeal held that `more than merely' preparatory' means that the defendant must
have gone beyond purely preparatory acts and be `embarked on the crime proper'.

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Cases showing mere preparation
The case of Gullefer illustrates a situation in which D's acts were mere preparation. Although D had tried to interfere
with the race, he had several other acts to do before the theft (which would mean him getting his money back). He
had to go to one of the betting points and ask for his money back. Even just going towards the point would not be
sufficient. However, asking for the money would change his actions into `more than merely preparatory'.…read more

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Cases in which there was an attempt
The following two cases show situations where the defendant had gone beyond more than merely preparation. In
each case the defendants were held to be guilty of an attempt to commit the full offence.
The difference from Campbell is that burglary is that burglary is committed at the moment D enters as a trespasser
with intent to steal (or do certain other offences). Robbery is not committed until D uses force to steal.…read more

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The decision by the Court of Appeal in both these cases can be criticised. Surely the defendant did intend to steal
something? The fact that Easom did not do so (presumably because there was nothing really worth stealing) should
not make him guilty of attempting to steal. Equally in the case of Husseyn, the fact that he ran off because the police
arrived does not mean that he was not trying to steal.…read more

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Act 1981 was passed it contained a subsection (s1 (2)) which was intended to close this loophole and make
defendants guilty of an attempt even though the full offence was available.
Section 1 (2) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 states:
"A person who may be guilty of attempting to commit an offence ...…read more

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What is `more than merely preparatory'?
The cases of Gullefer, Geddes and Campbell that we looked at show the courts are not always prepared to take a
broad approach when deciding what is `more than merely preparatory'.
However, it can be argued that the more than merely preparatory test is an improvement on the law as it stood prior
to the passing of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.…read more

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After all, it is a key principle of criminal law that a person should not be guilty unless
they have a guilty mind.…read more


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