Mens Rea

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 28-01-14 11:07

What Is It?

The mental element of an offence.

each offence has its own mens rea or mental element.

In criminal cases it is for the prosecution to prove the required mens rea.

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definition comes from case - Mohan (1975). Defined intention as a decision to bring about in so far as it lies within the accused power the prohibited consequence.

Meaning - D has an intention to do the act and bring about a particular consequence, motive or reason is not relevant.

In most cases the defendants intention is clear for example punch a victim in the face.

Intention is the highest level of mens rea - intention to bring about a particular consequence. 

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Oblique Intent

Where the defendant intends to do one thing but consequence whoch occurs is another thing.

Case: Hancock and Shankland - 2 miners upset by miners going to work (80s strike) intended to drop a concret slab next to a taxi full of workers to scear them. However it went throught the windscreen and killed the driver. Held guilty of manslaughter

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Foresight Of Consequences

D intends to do something eles than what happend. if, in achieving the other thing D foresaw that he would also cause thouse consequences, may be found guilty.

D must intend or foresee a result. Not the same as intention but can be evidence of intention.

It is only evidence from which intention can be found. The consequence must be a virtual certainty and the defendant must realise this is so. 

Case: Woollin (1998) - D threw his 3 month old baby towards a pram, hits a wall causing the babys death. court ruled consequence must be a virtual certainty and the defendant must realise this. 

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  • Lower level of mens rea that intention
  • Defendant knows there is a risk of the consequence happening but takes that risk
  • Offences for whoch recklessness is sufficient for the mens rea includes:
    • Assault and battery
    • Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
    • Criminal damage
  • Use to be two levels of recklessness they were:
    • Subjective - D realised the rik but decided to take it 
    • Objective - where an ordinary prudent person would have realised the risk: the D was guilty even if he did not realise the risk

Case: Elliott v C - 14yr old girl (low intelegence) set a shed on fire.


If the risk is one which would have been obvious to a reasonably prudent person, once it has also been proved that the particular defendant gave no thought to the possibility of there being such a risk, it is not a defence that because of limited intelligence or exhaustion she would not have appreciated the risk even if she had thought about it.

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Involuntary Manslaughter

To prove involuntary manslaughter - shown D foresaw the highly probable risk of serious injury or death, but they did not intend to kill

To prove manslaughter - D does intend to kill but have an excuse such as loss of control or diminished responsibility

  • Subjective recklessness has been re-introduced in the area of involuntary manslaughter
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  • A person is negligent if they fail to meet the standards of a reasonable man.
  • Only mainstreem offence for whoch negligence is relevant in manslaughter

Case: R v Adomako - anaesthetist in charge of a patient during an eye operation. During the operation an oxygen pipe became disconnected and the patient died. The appellant failed to notice or respond to obvious signs of disconnection. The jury convicted him of gross negligence manslaughter. 

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Type of mens rea is the level required by sime statutory offences. Even when the act does not actually state that the defendant must have knowledge, it is sometimes inferred that knowledge is required for the defendant to be guilty.

Case: Sweet v Parsly - Woman let out a house to students who used the house to smoke class B drugs. she went once a month to collect rent and had no idea this was happening, she was charged for being concerend in the manegment of premisis used for smoking class B drugs.

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Transferred Malice

Principle that the defendant can be guilty if he intended to commit a similar crime but against a different victim.

intend to do something to A but hits B instead.

Case: Latimer -  aimed to hit a man with a belt, bounces off him and hit a woman, liable for both hitting the man and woman as his malice is transfered from the man to the woman. Guilty of assault of the man and GBH of the woman.

However, where the mens rea is for completely different type of offence, then the defendant may not be guilty.

Case: Pembliton (1874) - throws a stone to hit a person, misses but hits and smashes a window. His intention to hit the man could not be transferred to the criminal damage of the window. 

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General Malice

In some cases the defendant may not have a specific victim in mind. For example a terrorist who plants a bomb, they are liable for the death of the people killed although they did not have that specific victim in mind. 

In this case the defendant's mens rea is held to apply to th actual victim.


Gilford 4 - irish men who bombed a pub in gilford the 7 star known that army men went to, liable for the deaths of the people in the pub at the time the bomb went off.

Birmingham 6 - blew up two pubs in birmingham, taven in the town and the mulbry bush, convicted of murder of the people who died from the bomb.

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Contemporanity Rule

in order for an offence to take place, both the actus reus and the mens rea must be present at the same time. (contemporanitiy) 

when an actus reus is being committed eg running over a police mans foot, and the mens rea comes after while the actus reus is still going on - refusing to move, then the two are coinciding and the defendant will be guilty. 

R v Church - Man slapped a prostutute and thought he had killed her (mens rea) threw her in lake and she later died (actus reus)

Thabo Meli v R - Man was mugged by a group on men, they though they had killed him (mens rea) and threw him over a cliff, he later died at the bottom of the cliff (actus rea)

Fagan v Metropolitan Police - man was pulled over by the police, did and ran over the foot of one of the police men (actus rea) when told to move the car he refused (actus rea)

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