Actus Reus + Omissions

Actus reus  is the physical element of the crime.

It can be:

  • an act
  • a failure to act (an omission)
  • a 'state of affairs'
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CCCs (act/omission/state of affairs)


The conduct must be voluntaty, a willed muscular movement (or lack of it) under the defendant's control. If a defendant does not have control over his movements then he has not committed the actus reus of the crime.


Crimes usually require proof of accomanying circumstances, these are conduct crimes. There are some circumstances where the defendant has been convicted even though their actions were not voluntary. These are 'state of affairs' crimes. Case- Larsonneur (1933)


  • Dangerous driving
  • Perjury


For some crimes a result must follow for the actus reus to be complete. Consequence is needed for the offence of assult occasioning actual bodily harm. There must be an actus reus but there must also be a consequence of 'actual bodily harm', this means the victim must have some injuries, this could be a bruise or a broken bone, even a psychiatric injury.

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It is also needed for murder

  • conduct- causing death
  • circumstance- unlawful
  • consequence- criminal act or omission caused a death
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What is an omission?

A failure to act which results in harm

The normal rule is that an omission can't make someone guilty of an offence, e.g. person A sees person B drowning but doesn't try to save them, B drowns. A has committed no offence.


1. Check that the offence can be committed by omission as some cannot e.g. murder can but constructive manslaughter cannot

2. If it can be, there can only be criminal liability if the D is under a special duty to act

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When omissions can be criminal liablity

1. Failing to act under a contractual duty

Pittwood 1902- railway crossing keeper failed to close the gate, the result of this was that a person crossing the line was stuck and killed. Guilty of manslaughter. He breached his employment contract, he was under a duty.

2. Failing to act when under a statutory duty

Road Traffics Act- failing to stop at a red light, failing to wear a seatbelt, failing to provide a specimen if breath. All failing to do something.

3. Where a special relationship exists

  • Automatic assumption of duty to care (parent/child)

Gibbins & Proctor (1918)- father of seven year old girl lived with partner. He had several other children from earlier marriage. He and the partner kept the girl seperate from the other children and starved her to death. Convicted of murder. Both had duty of care to feed child. Failure to feed was enough for actus reus.

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When omissions can be criminal liablity 2

  • Voluntary assumption of duty to care

Stone & Dobinson (1977) - Stone's sister, Fanny, was elderly and came  to live with the defendants. She became bedridden and incapable of caring for herself. On at least one occasion, Dobinson helped to wash Fanny and occasionally prepared food for her. Fanny died from malnutrition. Ds both guilty of manslaughter. Both under duty to care for her or find someone who could.

4. Other legal duty to act

Dytham (1979)- PC on duty committed offence when he knowingly failed to intervene when the victim was ejected from a nightclub and beaten to death by bouncer. Because Dytham was a police officer, he was guilty of wilfully and without reasonable excuse of neglecting to perform his duty. He was guilty of misconduct in a public office.

5. Duty arising from the creation of a dangerous situation (minimising risks you have created)

Miller (1983)- living in a squat, fell asleep, matress caught on fire. Woke up and went to sleep in another room. Convicted of arson because he failed to take responsibility and deal with the fire.

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AO2 Actus Reus & Omissions

  • Problems when those assuming duties are incapale of fulfilling them
  • Fairness of expecting those under a contract of employment to act if there is a personal risk and of expecting more of those who hold public office.
  • Policy issues relating to doctors
  • Infringement of civil rights
  • Large number of potential defendants
  • Overlap between problem of coincidence and creation of dangerous situations
  • Policy dictates that many crimes committed by omission are strict liability where no mens rea is required
  • Uncertainty- difficulty in defining a duty and whether a person can be absolved after assuming a duty
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