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Actus reus

Actus Reus this is a wrongful act or failure to act. Each crime has its own actus reus which refers to the act but also some consequence. Therefore the following need to be considered:

  • the voluntary act
  • an omission
  • which causes
  • the prohibited result.

1, The voluntary nature of the actus reus; this means that D's actions are not involuntary, he has some conscious control over his physical acts or omissions however slight that control might be. If D has no control over his actions then he can use the defense of automatism to show that he has not committed the actus reus. In Hill v Baxter (1958) D had a heart attack. The court said that a driver could be driving involuntary if he lost control of his vechile as he was attacked by a swarm of bees, knocked unconscious after being struck on the head by a stone or had a heart attack.

In rare cases D may be found guilty of an offence even when they have not acted voluntarily. These are known as state of affairs cases, R v Larsonneur (1933)

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Omissions as Actus reus part 1

The normal rule is that there is no criminal liability for a failure to act. There are however a number of exceptions to the rule where the law imposes a legal duty to act. This means D can be liable for their omission in certain circumstances.

  • Where an Act of Parliament makes it an offence for failing to act. For example The Children and Young Person's Act 1933 makes it an offence to fail to provide a child with adequate food, clothing, housing and medical health. Liable on parent or guardian.
  • Where there is a contractual duty to act. As in the case of Pittwood (1902) Pittwood was a level crossing operator. He went off to lunch and doesn't put the barrier down indicating that its safe to cross a horse and cart cross and thay are hit by a train; the driver dies.
  • Where a duty is created because a special relationship is said to exist. As in the case of Instan (1893) A young women lived with her old aunt. The aunt became unwell and bedridden, the young women failed to ask for help and her aunt got gangrene and died. She was guilty of manslaughter.
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Omissions as Actus Reus part 2

  • Where a duty has been taken on voluntarily e.g. Stone and Dobinson (1977) A women came to live with her elderly brother and his elderly women friend. They voluntarily looked after her, the women was obessed with her weight and becomes unwell and bed bound, she develops bed sores, they become infected and she dies. The brother and his friend were guilty of manslaughter.
  • Where there is a duty through D's position e.g. Dytham(1979) A police officer on duty was in his police car and witnesses a man being assaulted and kicked to death, he failed to intervene or to summons help and was liable for his omission.
  • Where a duty exists because D became aware that he had caused a dangerous situation to arise and then fails to minimise the harmful consequence of that act e.g. R v Miller (1983) a squater falls asleep with a lit cigarette which set fire to the matrtress when he woke up, instead of putting the fire out, he simply moved to another room. He committed a crime because he had begun the chain of events which resulted in a fire.
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Causation part 1

For D to have the actus reus of the crime in question the prosecution must prove that his voluntary act or omission caused the prohibited outcome. Sometimes it will be straightforward. At other times the defendant may argue that a third party has caused or contributed to the prohibited outcome. Who now would have the actus reus for the unlawful killing of the victim? To decide if the defendant has caused the probibited outcome the court will ask three questions: 

  • Was D's conduct the factual cause of death?
  • Was D's conduct the legal cause of death?
  • Did any intervening act break the chain of causaution?

1, Factual causation - the but for test. To decide is D's act or omission was the factual cause of the prohibited outcome the court will use the but for test. The court will ask but for D's act or omission would the prohibited outcome have happened. If the answer is NO then D's conduct WAS the factual cause. White (1910) Intending to murder his mother, D put arsenic in her bedtime drink before she drank it she died from heart failure. But for, White putting poison in her drink would she have died when she did? Yes. Therefor he is not the factual cause.

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Causation part 2

Pagett (1983) A man is on the run from the police and goes to his in-laws house and grabs his pregnant wife to use as a human shield. The police arrive and he fires in the direction of the police. The police fire back and hits the wife and she dies. But for D firing at the police would have the V have died when she did? NO, so therefore he is the factual cause. However the police officer could also be the factual cause.

2. Legal causation- the significant and operative cause, take your victim as you find him. There may be more than 1 cause of the prohibited outcome. D can still be said to have caused it as long as his is a significant and operative cause. 

Significant cause means an important factor/ doesn't have to be the most important factor.

Operative cause means a cause that still works as a cause. 

D must also take his victim as he finds him. This is also called the 'thin skull' rule whereby D is liable for the full extent of V's injuries even is V has something unusual about his physical or mental state which means the injury is serious then D intended or predicted. R v Blaue (1975)- Blaue stabbed his victim (a Jehovah's witness) who because of her religion refused a blood tranfusion and died. 

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Causation part 3

3. New Intervening Acts- breaking the chain of causation, medical neglience and the victims own acts. One way we can show that D di cause the prohibited outcome when there are a range of possible causes is to establish a chain of causation indicting how all the events link together from D's conduct to V's injury or death. If there is a new intervening act (novus actus interveniens) it will break the chain of causation if it independent of D's act and sufficiently serious to cause the court to decide that D's conduct was no longer the cause of the prohibited outcome. 

To decide this the court will ask whether the intervening act was a foreseeable consequence of D's conduct. If not it will break the chain of causation meaning that D does not have the actus reus of the crime. Is it independent and foreseeable?    Malcharek (1981)  The V suffered multiple stabbings and was on a life support machine after 17 months the doctors decided there was no possibility of recovery and switched off the life support machine the D argued he was not liable for the victims death. The court decided that switching off the life support machine wasn' independent of the stabbing and was foreseeable so D was liable. 

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Causation part 4

Will neglient medical treatment break the chain of causation? Even when medical treatment is neglient it is unlikely to break the chain of causation. If D causes injury to V, then even if that injury was intially minor and a Doctors negligence then contributed to V's death, D will have the actus reus for the death as long as the injury was not significant and remained an operative cause. This is because it is foreseeable that if you cause V physical injury requiring medical treatment then he may also suffer from negligent medical treatment which causes his death. 

Negligent medical treatment will only break the chain of causation where it is 'palpably wrong'. Jordan (1956)  The D is a soldier who stabs the V, the V is ommited to hosipital where he is given a drug which causes him to have an extreme allergic reaction 8 days later. The V had recovered and was on the point of being released when a different doctor gave him the same drug that caused his death. The court said this was palpably wrong not negligence. Breaks the chain of caustion. Jordan wasn't laible

Can the victims own act break the chain of causation? Only if D's act is so 'daft' that the reaonable man wouldn't consider it in the 'agony of the moment' would it be unforeseeableand therefore break the chain of causation. Roberts (1971)  Roberts picks up a female hitchhiker he issued threats and makes sexual demands she jumps out the car between 20-40 mph and suffers significant injuries. Her jumping out the car wasn't so daft that the reasonable man wouldn't consider it in the agony of the moment. 

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The Prohibited Result

4. The prohibited result:  for the crimes in AS level Law, there will be a prohibited result e.g s47 OAP 1861 involves an assault that occasions abh. Without abh D does not have the actus reus of the offence. Most crimes involve a prohibited outcome, although some e.g. conspriacy, may not.

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