AQA Law Unit 2 - Underlying Principles of Criminal Liability

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Underlying principles of Criminal Liability

Actus Reus of the crime + Mens Rea of the crime = Defendant Liability

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Actus Reus


Involuntary Acts - does not form actus reus - Hill v Baxter (1958); swarm of bees

Omissions - a failure to act is not an act.

Where a person's contract requires him to act - Pittwood (1902); gatekeeper on railway crossing

Where a person's public position requires him to act -  Dytham (1979); policeman failed to act

Where an Act of Parliament requires a person to act -  Children and Young Persons Act 1933

Where a person fails to minimise the harmful consequences of his act -  Miller (1983); fire

Where a person voluntarily takes on a duty -  Stone and Dobinson (1977); anorexic sister

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The link between the defendant's act and the criminal consequence.

Factual causation - this is the 'but for' test: but for the defendant's act would not have occurred? White (1910) - poison cyanide, heart attack and Pagett (1983) - girlfriend human shield

Legal causation - this is the 'operating and substantial cause' test to find the link between the defendant's act and the criminal consequence.

Jordan (1956) - medical treatment 'palpably wrong'

Smith (1959) - 2 soldiers, v stabbed taken to hospital, dropped twice, d found guilty of murder

Cheshire (1991) - complications from tracheotomy

Intervening acts or events - Novus Actus Interveniens - Malcherek (1981); life support machine

Take your victim as you find him - Blaue (1975); Jehovah's Witness, refused blood transfusion

The victim's own act - Roberts (1971); girl jumped out of moving car

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Mens Rea



Direct - Mohan (1976) - direct intention in defendant's power

Indirect (obllique) -  Woollin (1998) - D fed 3-month old son who choked, so D threw baby to wall, who later died 

  Matthews and Alleyne (2003) - D's threw V over bridge, who drowned and died

Recklessness - defendant knows there is a risk but goes ahead and takes it anyway

 Cunningham (1957) - broken pre-pay gas meter, gas exploded and V became ill

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Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea and transfe

Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea

The actus reus and mens rea of a crime must occur at the same time - contemporaneity rule. The idea is that a person cannot be guilty of a crime if he performs an act that causes a previously desired result. 

Fagan v Metropolitan Polica Commissioner (MPC) (1969) - D stopped car on policeman and refused to move - no mens rea at first in this case, but it was later formed as D refused to move

Thabo Meli (1954) - D hit V on head, intending to kill - then threw V over cliff

Church (1966) - D threw unconscious V into river thinking V was dead

Tranferred Malice - mens rea of the crime directed at one person is transferred to the unintended victim of the crime

Mitchell (1983) - D pushed elderly man, who fell on elderly woman, who died in hospital - the court said there was no direct contact between D and V but V was direct result of D's action

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Strict Liability

These are crimes defined as requiring an actus reus only; mens rea has no relevance

Sweet v Parsley (1970) - teacher let out cottage to students who took drug

Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd. v Attorney-General for Hong Kong (1985) - criteria's laid; presumption of mens rea, truly criminal, statute must clearly exclude mens rea, only for public safety or social concern and encouraging greater vigilance

Alphacell v Woodward (1972) - D's allowed polluted water to be discharged into river

Smedleys v Breed (1974) - caterpillar in tin of peas

London Borough of Harrow v Shah (2000) - national lottery ticket sold to under 16

Blake (1997) - unlicensed radio station broadcast

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The offences of assault and battery

Assault and battery are two different offences that together are called common assault.

Assault - intentionally or recklessly causing the victim to fear immediate, unlawul harm.

Savage (1991) - mens rea is an intentionto cause victim to apprehend unlawful and immediate violence or recklessness.

Actus reus has these elements; causing the victim to apprehend violence, immediate and unlawful violence. Logdon (1976) - D pointed gun at V who got scared. Smith v Chief superintendent of Woking Police Station (1983) - no words, just action. 

Battery - the unlawful application of force to another.

Thomas (1985) - school caretaker touched girls skirt. Consent can make the touching lawful. 

Haystead (2000) - punched girlfriend who dropped baby.

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Three offences under the Offences Against the Pers

Hierarchy of harm

Assault and battery ------> Section 47 ------> Section 20 ------> Section 18

Section 47 of the OAPA 1861 - assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), triable either-way.Chan-Fook (1994) - bodily harm includes organs, nervous system and brain. Smith (2006) - includes person's hair.

Section 20 of the OAPA 1861 - malicious wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm (GBH), triable either-way. Must have no consent, wounding requires break of skin, ordinary and natural meaning. JCC v Eisenhower (1984) - hit by airgun pellt, internal bleeding so no wounding. Brown and Stratton (1998) - V was transsexual, attacked and left with broken nose.

Section 18 of the OAPA 1861 - wounding or GBH, triable either-way. Belfon (1976) - D slashe V with a razor. 

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Summary of offences

Section 47 

Actus reus - assault occasioning actual bodily harm

Mens rea - intention or recklessness as to either putting the victim in fear of unlawful force or applying unlawful force

Section 20

Actus reus - wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm

Mena rea - intention or recklessness as to some harm

Section 18

Actus reus - wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm 

Mens rea - specific intent to wound or cause grievous bodily harm or resist arrest

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