Introduction to criminal law
It is the physical element of a crime. It can = a act, failure to act, or a state of affairs.
With some crimes the actus reus must have an act, or omission, that results in a consequence.
Voluntary nature of Actus Reus.
An act or omission, must be voluntary on part of the defendant. If the defendant has no control over their cations, they have not, committed the actus reus. For example Hill v Baxter 1958.
Involuntary act and assaults.
can occur in assaults. For example. A pushes B, who falls and pushes C. The act of the person being pushed is involuntary= not guilty. A could be guilty if he had the mens rea.
Omission as actus reus.
They cannot make person, guilty of offence under the normal rule. For common law crimes, omission is only sufficient for actus reus where a duty exists.
A DUTY BECAUSE OF A RELATIONSHIP.( usually parent & child.)
Gibbins and Proctor 1918
A DUTY TAKEN ON VOLUNTARILY.
Stone and Dobinson 1977
A DUTY THROUGH ONES OFFICIAL POSITION.
A DUTY WHICH ARISES BECAUSE DEFENDANT HAS SET IN MOTION A CHAIN OF EVENTS.
This is when a consequence must be proved, then the prosecution has to show that:
- The defendants conduct, was the factual cause.
- It was in law the cause of consequence.
- There was no intervening act to break chain of causation.
Thin skull rule= take victim as you find him. E.g. he may have a mental illness which makes defendants actions must worse.
Chain of Causation
There, must be a direct link between, defendants conduct and the consequence. However sometimes there is a extra happening, called an intervening act, that can break the chain of causation.
E.g. D, beats up V, V goes in ambulance, ambulance crashes, causes V serious injuries, V dies.
"But for test" = this wouldn't have happened. but for D beating up V.
Chain can be broken by:
- Third party.
- Victims own act.
- A natural but unpredictable event.
Medical treatment, is unlikely to break the chain of causation. unless it is so independent, of defendants actions and in itself causes death. E.g. Cheshire 1991. D shot V is leg and belly. V went to hospital, has problems breathing, they inserted a tracheotomy. V died of rare complications from this, that went unnoticed by Docs. By this time original wounds, where no longer life threatening. D was still held liable for death.
This is the mental element of the crime= guilty mind.
Each offence has its own mens rea. There are different levels of mens rea. The highest is INTENTION.
In Mohan 1975- the court defined intention as a decision, to bring about, in so far as it lies within, accused power, no matter whether accused, desired that consequence, of act or not.
FORESIGHT OF CONSEQUENCE.
The consequence must be a virtual certainty and defendant must realise this. It is only evidence from which intent can be found. It was explained in Woollin 1998. Where defendant, threw his 3 month on baby. Pram was against a wall and baby hit the wall.
This is a lower level of mens rea then, intention. The defendant must realise there is a risk of the consequence, happening and decide, to take that risk. It was explained in Cunningham 1957.
It is a principle of English law that the actus reus and mens rea must coincide. That is they must happen at the same time. This is sometimes referred to as the contemporaneity rule or the coincidence of actus reus and mens rea. However, the courts often apply a flexible approach in holding that the actus reusis a continuing act. See:
Offences of strict liability are those where the defendant is guilty because they did the actus reus. There is no need to prove the mens rea. This can be unfair as the defendant will be guilty even if they did not intend to commit an offence. E.g. Larsonneur, ordered to leave UK, went back to Ireland, deported her back to UK.
Judges often have trouble deciding whether an offence is one of strict liability or not.
Regulatory offences designed to, protect public interest; easy to prove; saving court time.
Main justification of strict liability offences, is to protect society and promoter greater public safety. It encourages higher standards. It is easier to enforce as it requires no mens rea. It also saves court time as people are more likely to plead guilty.
Main argument, against strict liability. It makes people who are not blameworthy guilty.