Unit 2 | Actus reus and Mens rea (AQA)

Actus reus and Mens rea

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Actus reus
"Guilty act"
Voluntary acts
The actus reus is the voluntary, deliberate act of the defendant.
E.g. the actus reus for GBH s.20 / s.18 is any act of the defendant (i) that is unlawful (ii) and
has the consequence of causing injury to the victim (iii) which the law classifies as a wound or
grievous bodily harm.
A criminal offence always requires an actus reus and generally requires a mens rea too.
Involuntary acts
Hill and Baxter 1958 gives examples of when a driver of a car would not be guilty because of
an involuntary act:
E.g. Sneezing and closing your eyes or being attacked by bees whilst driving.
Another example is if a stronger person holds a knife in the hand of a weaker person and
stabs someone, (the weaker person would not be guilty).
An omission is a failure to act.
A person is only liable when:
A) They have a contract to act, e.g. Pitwood 1902. In this case a gatekeeper
of a level crossing went to lunch, leaving the level crossing open. A train hit a
vehicle causing someone to die.
B) They are in a public position to act, e.g. Dytham 1979. Here the defendant
was an off duty police officer. He witnessed a person being kicked to death
by a group and then drove off after it finished.
When an Act of Parliament requires you to act, e.g. wearing a seatbelt and
looking after a child.
When you fail to minimise the consequences of your act, e.g. Miller 1983. In
this case the defendant was a squatter. He fell asleep smoking a cigarette
and caused a fire. He woke up and saw the fire, but instead of putting it out
he went to another room to go back to sleep, causing damage to the
When a person takes on a voluntary duty, e.g. Stone and Dobinson 1977.
Here the defendants agreed to look after Stone's sister, who was ill with
anorexia. She became more and more ill and stayed in her room. The
defendants failed to seek medical help and she ended up dying.

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The rule of causation must be applied to decide whether the act caused the consequences defined in
the crime, e.g. in homicide, the defendants act must lead to the death of a victim.
Factual causation
This is known as the `but for' test.
`But for the defendant's actions, would the consequence have occurred?'
If the result would have occurred without the defendants actions it must have been caused by
something else, e.g. White 1910.…read more

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Take your victim as you find them
(Thin skull / eggshell skull rule)
The law does not allow for any special characteristics of the defendant, e.g. if they're more
vulnerable to injury than most.
e.g. Blaue 1975 ­ The defendant stabbed a victim, who was a Jehovah's Witness. The victim
would die if she didn't have a blood transfusion, but refused on religious grounds. She died, making
the defendant guilty of murder as he had to take his victim as he found her, including religion.…read more

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Mens rea
"Guilty mind" or "intention"
There are 3 types of intent: direct, oblique and recklessness.
Direct intent
The defendant will be guilty if they intended to commit the crime, e.g. S.18 of the OAP Act:
"The intent to cause grievous bodily harm"
Mohan 1976 - Here, the defendant was speeding. A police officer stood in front of the car, signalling
to stop. The defendant slowed down as if to stop, but then accelerated straight at the officer, who
jumped out of the way.…read more

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In the case, the defendant broke a gas metre to steal money but gas escaped and caused the
occupant of the house to become ill. Cunningham saw this risk but did it anyway.
Transferred malice
This is where the defendant's mens rea is transferred from the intended victim to the actual victim.
Mitchell 1983 ­ the defendant got into an argument with an elderly man in the post office. He pushed
him, and he fell into an elderly woman who died.…read more

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Strict liability
These are crimes where there is an actus reus but there is no requirement for a mens rea ­ so
performing the act is sufficient to be guilty.
Examples include health & safety regulations, motoring offences such as drink driving and selling
alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets to an underage person.
The majority of these offences are created by parliamentary legislation, by omitting the word
`knowingly', but it often relies on the courts to decide whether a case is strict liability.…read more

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Easier to prove
Takes less time in court
Encourages compliance with the law
Makes regulation straight forward
Protects the public
Disadvantages of strict liability
Could be unfair and unjust as there is no mens rea (e.g. Shah)
There is still time spent in court over minor prosecutions.…read more


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