Basic Elements of Crime - Actus Reus

Conduct Crimes, State of affair crimes, Result crime and causation.

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Actus Reus

  • All crimes, with the exception of those identified as 'strict liability' require the perpetrator to commit a criminal act (Actus Reus) while having the required criminal intentions (Mens rea).


  • So that only those blameworthy are convicted. Actus reus means 'guilty act' and is made up of the parts of the crime except the denfendants mental state.


  • Each seperate crime has its own Actus Reus. Most crimes require the accused to commit a certain act but this isn't always the case. Criminal liability can arise through a failure to act or from a certain type of conduct.



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Conduct Crimes & State of Affairs Crimes.

Conduct Crimes

  • The Actus Reus is the prohibited conduct.
  • Pejury is an example of a conduct crime where the defendant is guilty if he or she lies under oath.

State of affairs crimes

  • The prosecution must prove that the accused voluntarily brought about the actus reus of the crime.
  • e.g. A person hitting out due to a reflex action wouldnt be liable as the court would be unlikely to find that his or her actions were undertaken voluntarily.
  • For state of affair offences the actus reus involves 'being' rather than 'doing' it is the circumstance that creates the offence.

Cases: Leicester v Pearson (1952), R v Larsonneur (1933), Winzar v Chief Costable of Kent (1983).

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Result Crime and Causation

  • The prosecution must prove that the defendants actions caused the prohibited result, to do this they must prove a link between the actions and the consequences through Factual and Legal causation.

Factual Causation

  • Did the defendants actions cause the harm as a matter of fact?


  • The test for this is the 'but for test' - but for the defendants criminal actions would the victim have suffered harm? If the no the defendant is criminally liable.  

Case: R v White (1910).


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Legal Causation

  • Once factual causation is proven it must prove legal causation.


  • The test for this is whether the defendant's conduct made a 'significant contribution' to the result.


  • Sometimes there may be more than one factor contributing to the final result known as 'chain of causation'.


  • For the defendant to be guilty there must be an unbroken chain of causation, this can be broken by a number of things.



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Action of the Victim, Action of the third party, t

Actions of the Victim -This is when it may be the victims fault that they died such as drugs, illness or unreasonable actions. Case: R v Roberts (1978).


Actions of the third party - This is negligent medical treatment and switching of the life support machine. Case: R v Pagett (1983), R v Jordan (1956), R v Smith (1959), R v Cheshire (1991), R v Malckerek and Steel (1981)


The thin-skull test - Pre exisitng weakness or medical illness of the victim which would make the result more severe that it would usually be 'you take your victim as you find them'. Case: R v Blaue (1975).


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  • An omission is a failure to do something, there are several different circumstances that will give rise to a duty to act.

Duty arising from specific relationships - duty between a parent and their child, parents have a duty to look after their children and may be prosecuted if they fail to fulfil their duty this includes adoptive parents. Case: R v Gibbins and Proctor (1918).

Duty arising from a contract - if the defendant is under a contractual obligation to act and fails to do so, he or she may be liable if the lives of others are likely to be endangered as a result. Case: R v Pittwood (1902).

Duty through public office - Emergency Services. Case: R v Dytham (1979).

Voluntary assumption of a duty - A duty where someone voluntarily accepts responsibility for another. Case: R v Stone and Dobinson (1977).

Duty arising from dangerous prior conduct - If someone creates a situation that causes risk to another's life or property. Case: R v Miller (1983).

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