General Principles

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  • Introduction to Criminal Law
  • Actus Reus
  • Mens Rea
  • Strict Liability
  • Attempts
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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Introduction to Criminal Law
Definition of a `Crime'
In criminal law the state plays a major role. Nearly all prosecutions are initiated by `the state'.
Crime is difficult to define, being able only be defined as conduct forbidden by the state, which when performed,
incurs a punishment.
The criminal law is designed to protect the public and public decency. Criminal law also enables the state to punish
people who contravene these principles. Gradually, the country is moving towards a more rehabilitation-orientated
system, where stopping offenders re-offending is the key.
The Role of `the State'
As previously stated, the state plays the largest role in bringing public prosecutions for contravention of the criminal
law. Other institutions that can bring prosecutions are:
The Crown Prosecution Service
Private individuals
Organisations (charities) such as the RSPCA
Attorney ­ General
Local authorities in circumstances like Trading Standards
In the UK, the police are responsible for investigating crime, and the file is then passed the Crown Prosecution Service,
to decide if there is a case to be brought. The CPS has two tests to determine whether to prosecute or not:
1. The evidence test
2. The public interest test
Law and Morality
Crimes can, and often are, moral wrongs. Examples include murder, rape and theft ­ as these are all highly
frowned upon in the bible.
The law however, changes over time. What was criminal 50 years ago may now no longer be criminal. Examples
of this type of evolution include the laws on homosexuality and abortion.
Whether or not the law should enforce moral values is a controversial area. The Wolfenden Committee 1957
which was set up to reform the law on homosexuality stated that: -
"It is not the function of the criminal law to interfere with the private lives of citizens in order to try and impose
certain standards of behaviour."
The Wolfenden Committee 1957

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Arguably, as Britain is a democracy: our laws should naturally tend to being representative of the public's morals. As
will be seen later, statutory rulings are not the only source of law and therefore the judiciary should be aware of the
public's view if making potentially binding decisions regarding controversial topics.
It was ten years before the law on homosexuality was changed in this area and the debate continues to this day.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Classification by Offences
1. Summary
E.g. Shoplifting, Common Assault
2. Triable Either Way
E.g. ABH, Theft
3. Indictable
E.g. Murder, Rape
The Court's Structure
There are two main criminal trial courts in the English Legal System. These are the:
1. Magistrate's Court
2.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Decide facts and return verdict.
Reforming the Criminal Law
There are currently two methods in circulation for reforming the criminal law.
This involves putting all the statute and case law on a subject together. E.g. The Theft Act 1968
Several Acts under one topic are drawn together into one big Act. E.g.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Intoxication Not a defence as such but this plays a part in deciding whether or not D created the required mens rea.
Specific Defences
Self Defence This covers not only actions needed to defend oneself but also actions taken to defend another or
prevent crime. The force must be reasonable and justifiable.
Consent Not strictly a defence considering if consent is present, there rarely is an offence.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Actus Reus
Crimes comprise of the actus reus and the mens rea.
The actus reus is the physical element of the crime. It can be in the form of:
A guilty act (D punches V)
An omission (D does not feed his son, V)
A state of affairs (D does not wilfully place himself in that position)
The actus reus must be voluntary. If the act is involuntary; there is usually not crime.
E.g.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Road Traffic Act 1988
This made it an offence to drive WITHOUT insurance (i.e. to omit to have insurance when driving).
Pittwood (1902)
D failed to shut the gates on a level crossing and caused the death of a motorist.
Gibbins & Proctor (1918)
Gibbins and his partner starved his 7-year-old daughter. The other children were well fed and cared for.
An omission can be the actus reus for murder where a duty of care exists.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
Khan & Khan (1998)
Ds supplied heroin to a new user who collapsed. They left and when they returned, she had died.
There could be a duty to summon medical help in certain circumstances.
The categories of a duty of care can be extended on a case-by-case basis.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
A reasonable response in self defence does not break the chain of causation.
White (1910)
D attempted to poison his mother; however she died of a heart attack before drinking any poison. Also:
he did not give her enough poison to cause death.
The act must be the factual cause of death.
Legal Cause
There may be more than one act contributing to the consequences, possibly by someone else other than D.…read more

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General Principles
A2 Law | 2010
D's acts need not be the sole or even main cause of death as long as they contributed significantly to
the death.
Malchrek & Steel (1981)
D stabbed V in the stomach. She was on life support and when it was switched off ­ D was convicted of
her murder. His argument was that the doctors had caused the death by turning the machine off.…read more


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