Actus Reus


Actus Reus

The Actus Reus is the conduct element of the offence.

Where the defendants' conduct is an act the act must be voluntary.

  • Hill and Baxter - Judge gave an example of what would be classed as an involuntary act.

Involuntary acts can occur in assaults.

Criminal law often looks at fault. Where there is an absence of fault the defendant is not usually liable.

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State of Affairs

An alternative way to form the Actus reus is through a State of Affairs.

  • Larsonneur
  • The defendant was deported from the UK to Eire and then sent back to the UK by the Irish police where she was arrested for being an alien.
  • In theory she had not formed any Actus reus (or mens rea) however she was still guilty.
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Omissions as Actus reus

An omission is a failure to act; the general rule is that an omission cannot make a person liable.

Parliament can create liability for an omission, eg. failing to provide a breath specimen.

For Common Law offences an omission can only form the Actus Reus where there is a duty to act.

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Contractual Duty

  • Pittwood 1902


  • A railway crossing keeper failed to shut the gates so that a person crossing the line was killed by a train.    
  • Guilty of Manslaughter
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Duty because of a relationship

  • Gibbins and Proctor 1918
  • A childs father and step mother failed to feed the child. As a result the child died of starvation.
  • Guilty of Murder
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Voluntary Duty

  • Stone and Dobinson 1977
  • The defendants took on a voluntary duty to care for Stones' elderly sister who came to live with them. They were of subnormal intelligence and as a result were not able to care for her when she became ill and so the defendants sister died.
  • Guilty of Manslaughter
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Duty through an Official position

  • Dytham 1979


  • A police officer witnessed an attack on the victim but took no steps to intervene or summon help and instead drove away from the scene.     
  • Guilty of willfully and without reasonable excuse neglecting to perform his duty.
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Defendant has set in motion a chain of events

  • Miller 1983
  • A squatter accidentally started a fire. When he realised he went to sleep in another room of the house. Because he did not attempt to put out the fire or summon help he was guilty of arson.
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