Principles of criminal liability

HideShow resource information

Actus reus

  • P has to prove D actually carried out the crime- called the actus reus
  • Physical elements of time crime- doing part of any crime
  • Also includes not doing something
  • Must be voluntary 
  • D must be in control of his body
  • Cannot include involuntary acts such as reflex actions or other incontrollable reactions
  • Hill v Baxter 1958- driver of a car was struck by a sudden heart attack, judge in this case gave a number of examples where a person would not be acting voluntarily 
1 of 48

Actus reus- Causation

  • Causation is the connection between Ds conduct and the consequence
  • For many crimes, the Ds conduct (actus reus) must have caused the particular consequence
  • Causation is part of the actus reus of a crime
  • In assault offences, the Ds act must have caused Vs injury, if D did not cause the outcome (injury) then he will not be liable
  • There are 2 types of causation
  • Factual causation
  • Legal causation
2 of 48

Factual causation

  • Uses the 'but for' test
  • Must be established that the consequences would not have occured 'but for' the Ds actions
3 of 48

Factual causation- Pagett (1983)

  • D used his pregnant girlfriend as a human shield while shooting at armed police
  • Police fired back, shooting and killing the girlfriend
  • D found guilty of manslaughter
  • Held: Ds conviction upheld. Ds girlfriend would not have died but for his actions- police were acting in their usual line of duty and so factual causation was established
4 of 48

Factual causation- White (1910)

  • D charged with mothers murder
  • D put poison in his mothers drink with the intention of killing her
  • However before drinking the drink, his mother died of a heart attack
  • Because Vs death was not related to Ds actions, he was not guilty of her murder
  • D had not factually caused her death
5 of 48

Legal causation- novus actus interveniens

  • Legal causation normally proven unless something happens to break the link between Ds conduct and the consequence to V
  • This break in the 'chain of causation' could be anything from Vs own actions of another person
  • Anything that breaks the chain of causation is called a novus actus interveniens
  • If D cannot prove that there was a novus actus interveniens then he will be liable for Vs death or injury
  • If D can prove there was a novus actus interveniens then he will not be liable for Vs death or injury
  • Rare
  • Courts take the view that only extreme circumstances will break the chain of causation from the original act to the final outcome even in cases where medical negligence is involved
6 of 48

Novus actus interveniens- medical negligence- Smit

  • Legal causation will be established if the original injury was a substancial and operative cause of death as seen in Smith
  • V was stabbed and later died
  • Dropped twice on way to medical room 
  • Further delay of other 45min before he was seen
  • Doctors failed to realise that one of the wounds had pierced Vs lung
  • Treatment given by the doctor described as thoroughly bad
7 of 48

Legal causation

  • Ds can only be held liable for an offence if their act(s) are both a factual and a legal cause of the consequence 
8 of 48

Legal causation- novus actus interveniens- interve

  • Disputes over legal causation usually arise when a chain of events involving third parties occur between the Ds original act and the resulting death or injury
9 of 48

Medical negligence- R v Cheshire (1991)

  • Argument developed in a fish and chip shop ending with D shooting V
  • V taken to hospital where he had an operation but later developed breathing problems
  • Breathing problems went unnoticed by medical staff and he died 2 months later as a result of negilgent medical treatment
  • Gunshot wounds had almost healed and were no longer life threatening at the time of his death
  • D convicted of murder at his trial but appealed
  • Held: Appeal dismissed- even though negligence in the treatment of V was the immediate cause of death, negligent medical treatment only breaks the chain of causation if it is so independent of the Ds act that the Ds contribution becomes insignificant
10 of 48

Medical negligence- Mellor (1996)

  • V was attacked by a gang of youths
  • Taken to hospital with facial bruising and chest pain
  • Died 2 days later of pneumonia
  • D convicted of manslaughter and appealed on the grounds that the hospital had failed to give the man sufficient oxygen
  • Held: Ds conviction was upheld- negligent medical treatment only breaks the chain of causation if it is so independent of Ds act that Ds contribution becomes insignificant
11 of 48

Medical negligence- Jordan (1956)

  • Sometimes, medical negligence can be so extreme that it will break the chain of causation and so D will not be liable for Vs death as seen in Jordan
  • V was recovering well from a stabbing
  • Wound mainly healed
  • Given a drug he was allergic to even though the hospital was aware of his intolerance and he died
  • Court held that the wound was no longer an operative cause of death and that medical treatment given had been 'palpably wrong' 
  • Administration of the drug had acted as a novus actus interveniens therefore D was not liable for the death of V
  • Described as an exceptional case dependent on its exact facts- seems that the law still requires very extraordinary circumstances for medical treatment to break the chain of causation
12 of 48

Contribution of third parties

  • Aside from medical negligence, there can be situations where other people (third parties) appear to contribute to causing the resulting harm
  • Where this is the case, D may try to blame others who were involved although this will not normally relieve D of criminal liability 
13 of 48

Contribution of third parties- R v Benge (1865)

  • D was a foreman in charge of workers who were taking up and repairing railway tracks
  • D misread the timetable and didnt realise when the next train was coming
  • D sent a signalman down the track to stop any trains; however the signalman did not go far enough, leaving less time for a train to stop
  • On seeing a train approaching, worker raised the flag but engine driver was not paying careful attention and did not see the signal in time
  • Train crashed and killed many people
  • At his trial for manslaughter, D argued that although he was negligent, the accident would not have occured without the negligence of the signalman failing to go far enough up the tracks and the engine driver not paying attention
  • Despite this, D was found guilty as his contribution to the accident had been a material and substancial cause of the accident even though there had also been negligence on the part of others
14 of 48

Pre-existing conditions thin skull rule

  • Means that if V has some kind of pre-existing personality or medical condition or a particular belief, D will be guilty of the harm caused to V even though an ordinary person would not have suffered such severe consequences
  • For example, if D commits a minor assault on V who has a heart condition and V suffers a heart attack and dies, D would be liable for Vs death even though the assault would not normally result in harm to someone without a heart condition
  • Rule applies whether D was aware of the heart condition or not
15 of 48

Thin skull rule- R v Hayward (1908)

  • D chased his wife out of the house shouting threats at her, she collapsed and died
  • D did not physically touch her
  • V suffering from rare medical condition which could lead to death where physical exertion was accompanied by threat and panic
  • Both D and V were unaware she had the condition
  • Held: D liable for manslaughter depsite the fact an ordinary person in reasonable health would not have died as his unlawful act had caused Vs death
  • Thin skull rule applied
16 of 48

Thin skull rule- Blaue (1975)

  • D stabbed V after she refused to have sex with him
  • One of the stab wounds penetrated her lung
  • On admittance to hospital she was told that she needed surgery in order to save her life
  • She refused to have the surgery due to religious reasons and died soon afterwards
  • Medical evidence suggested that she would have survived if she accepted the treatment
  • D convicted of manslaughter but appealed
  • Held: D argued that Vs refusal to have a transfusion was unreasonable and therefore amounted to a novus actus interveniens, courts rejected his argument and upheld his conviction
17 of 48

The victims own contributions

  • Sometimes, during the course of events, the victim themselves have appeared to contribute to their own death or injury 
18 of 48

Roberts (1972) - the daftness test

  • D gave a lift to a young woman late at night
  • During the journey he made unwanted sexual advances towards her
  • She jumped out the moving car thinking he was going to injure her
  • She was injured- suffering ABH
  • D convicted of s47 assault
  • Case introduced the daftness test 
  • If the V does something so daft or so unexpected that no reasonable person can be expected to forsee it then it would break the chain of causation
  • The court upheld Ds conviction on the grounds that V trying to escape was reasonably forseeable and so the chain of causation was not broken
19 of 48

Williams (1992)

  • V was a hitchhiker who had been given a lift from D
  • V jumped from the moving car as he thought the D was about to rob him of his wallet
  • V hit his head and died
  • D convicted of manslaughter and appealed
  • Held: While the prosecution had suggested that Ds threat must have been serious for V to jump out, Vs conviction was quashed as there was very little evidence to suggest D was about to rob the V
  • On the issue of novus actus interveniens, the judge stated:
  • 'The nature of Ds threat is important in considering whether the Vs conduct was proportionate to the threat that is to say that it was reasonable not to do something so daft as to amount to a novus actus interveniens
20 of 48

Novus actus interveniens

  • These cases tell us that when considering if Vs actions amount to a break in the chain of causation, the test will be to:
  • Look at the gravity of Ds threat
  • Decide if Vs action was proportionate to the threat
  • Decide if Vs action was reasonably forseeable 
  • Decide whether Ds action was very daft
21 of 48

R v Dear (1996)

  • D attacked V
  • V recieved medical treatment but later reopened his wounds in what was thought to be a suicide attempt and died 2 days after the initial attack
  • D argued Vs actions in opening the wounds amounted to a novus actus interveniens
  • Held: Ds conviction upheld, wound was still an operating and substancial cause of death 
22 of 48

Actus reus- omissions

  • An omission is not doing something- a failure to act
  • Under english law, the actus reus of a crime will only be commited if a D carries out a voluntary act; people are not normally criminally liable for failing to commit and act except under certain situations where there is a duty to act
23 of 48

Exceptions to the rule- a duty to act

  • Some situations where it can be an offence not to act
  • In criminal law, an omission, or failure to act will constitute the actus reus of the offence only when the law imposes a duty to act and the defendant fails to act- eg:
  • A statutory duty- parliament can create an offence for failing to do something eg Road Traffic Act 1988 failing to provide a PC with a specimen of breath when required to do so
  • Aside from an act of parliament, there are 5 other ways in which a legal duty to act can exist- known as common law offences:
  • A contractual duty
  • A duty arising from a relationship
  • A duty arising voluntarily 
  • A duty arising because D has created danger
  • A duty through ones official position
24 of 48

A contractual duty

  • Where a failure to fulfil a contract is likely to endanger lives, the law imposes a duty to act
  • This duty is owed to anyone who may be affected and not just the contractual parties
25 of 48

Contractual duty- Pittwood (1902)

  • D was a signalman employed by a railway company to look after the level crossing
  • On one occassion he failed to shut the gate and V was killed by a passing train
  • Held: D convicted of manslaughter as he was under a contractual duty to protect the general public who used the crossing 
26 of 48

A duty arising from a relationship- Gibbins v Proc

  • D1 was the father of many children including his 7 year old daughter
  • Wife left him and he was living with his lover- D2
  • Kept the girl away from other children and deliberately omitted to feed her- starved her to death
  • Later concocted a story about how she had gone away
  • D1 buried her and there was evidence that D2 beat her
  • Held: Ds convicted of murder as the Ds had a duty to feed the child because of their relationship
27 of 48

A duty arising voluntarily- Stone and Dobinson (19

  • Stone was legally blind and was of low intelligence
  • Lived with Dobinson for 8 years
  • Dobinson described as ineffectial/inadequate
  • Stones sister came to live with them suffering from anorexia
  • Agreed to look after her and her condition deteriorated, she died
  • They were liable for her death
28 of 48

A duty arising because D has created danger

  • Where a person inadvertently starts a chain of events which could lead to harm but then fails to take action to avoid the harm, they could be liable
29 of 48

A duty arising because D has created danger- Mille

  • Vagrant D fell asleep while smoking
  • Cigarette **** caught fire to the mattress
  • Failed to put it out and moved to another room
  • Building sustained £800 fire damage
  • Held: If D creates a dangerous situation then they are under duty to take all steps to prevent or atleast minimise the harm 
30 of 48

A duty through ones official position- Dytham (197

  • D was a police officer who stood by and watched V being thrown out of a nightclub
  • V kicked to death by a bouncer
  • PC did nothing to help because he was going off duty
  • Charged with the offence of misconduct in a public office
  • D claimed that the offence could not be commited by an omission as it specifically requires misconduct
  • Held: The offence of misconduct in a public office can be committed by an omission- Ds conviction was upheld
31 of 48

Mens rea

  • As well as proof that the accused committed the actus reus of a crime, conviction for the majority of serious criminal offences also requires the prosecution to prove that the accused was in a certain state of mind when carrying out the crime
  • Mens rea therefore refers to the mental element of the crime- Ds guilty mind
  • Each type of criminal offence has its own mens rea
  • Mens rea=guilty mind
  • Courts have developed definitions of common states of mind found in many criminal offences, these are:
  • Direct intent
  • Oblique intent
  • Recklessness
32 of 48

Mens rea- direct intent

  • Direct intention refers to its normal, common sense meaning- a person intendsa result when he or she wants it to happen
  • In Mohan (1976) direct intent was defined as 'Defendants aim, purpose or desire to bring about a certain result' 
  • In the case of Mohan, Lord Justice James considered it irrelevant whether the particular result was likely to occur or not
33 of 48

Mens rea- oblique intent

  • More problematic as it usually arises when D claims that he did not intent the particular result that in fact occured
  • In such cases where D intends a particular result but his actions leads to an additional or a different result, the court must give a legal direction to the jury as to the meaning of the intention
  • The current legal definition of oblique intent is 'where the consequence of Ds action is virtually certain and D goes ahead with his actions knowing that this is the case, then intention will be proven' 
  • In simpler terms, the consequences of Ds action is virtually certain and D goes ahead with his actions knowing that to be the case
34 of 48

Mens rea- oblique intent- R v Nedrick (1986)

  • D poured parrifin through the letterbox of a womans house and set fire to it
  • As a result of his actions, a fire broke out and the womans child died 
  • He said that he did not intend to kill anyone, only that he wanted to frighten her
  • Convicted of murder
  • Held: 'Where the charge is murder, the jury should be directed (oblique intent occurs) when death or really serious injury was a virtual certainty (banning some unforeseen intervention) as a result of Ds actions and that D appreciated such that this was the case' 
  • This case therefore made it clear that if the jury are satisfied that D recognised that death or serious injury was a virtual certain result of his act, then they may infer that D intended the result
35 of 48

Mens rea- oblique intent- R v Woolin (1996)

  • D charged and convicted of murder for violently shaking his 3 monthh old baby and throwing him across the room
  • D admitted that the baby had hit the floor hard but did not think that it would kill it although he accepted that there was a risk of injury
  • Held: The Law Lords held that the ruling in Nedrick was correct
36 of 48

Mens rea- recklessness

  • Lower level of mens rea than intention
  • Occurs when the P can prove that the D knew there was a risk of the consequence occuring but went ahead with his action anyway
  • Differs from oblique intent as it does not include the words 'virtual certainty'
37 of 48

Mens rea- recklessness- R v Cunningham (1957)

  • D stole money from a gas meter and in doing so, ripped the meter off the eall, leaving an exposed gas pipe
  • Gas escaped down to the basement of the flat, causing the neighbour to become dangerously ill
  • D charged under S23 of the offences against the persons act for 'maliciously administering a noxious substance so as to endanger life'
  • Trial judge interpreted 'maliciously' as meaning wicked
  • D convicted and appealed
  • Held: CA ruled that the trial judge had misdirected the jury on the meaning of malicious as it did not require wickedness- CA held that this particular offence could be committed either intentionally or recklessly and defined recklessness as:
  • 'The D himself must have foreseen the possibility of the consequence from occuring but nevertheless went ahead with the action anyway'
  • Conviction quashed as it could not be proved that he realised that there was a risk of harming anyone
  • This definition of recklessness is usually referred to as subjective recklessness- P must prove what D was thinking at the time of the offence
38 of 48

Mens rea- transferred malice

  • Occurs when Ds mens rea (eg intention or recklessness) 
  • For example, if Jim intended to hit George but missed and hit Fred instead; Jims mens rea (intention) would transfer from George to Fred
39 of 48

Mens rea- transferred malice- Latimer (1886)

  • Person aimed to hit someone but missed and hit a bystander
  • Mens rea transferred to victim from the intended victim as the offence was clearly of the same type
  • Would have been no transferred malice if the belt had hit/damaged an object
40 of 48

Mens rea- transferred malice- Mitchell (1983)

  • D pushed an old man, causing im to fall accidentally on an old woman who subsequently died in hospital from her injuries
  • D unsuccessfully appealed on the ground that his unlawful act had not been directed at the victim 
  • Court said that although there was no direct contact between the D and the V, she was injured as a direct result of his act and that the mens rea was transferred to the victim
  • Also a crime committed against the person originally pushed over
41 of 48

Mens rea- transferred malice- Pembilton (1874)

  • D threw stones into a crowd of people (assault) 
  • Stone hit and smashed a window (criminal damage)
  • Held: Transferred malice did NOT apply, his conviction was quashed as the offences were not of the same type
42 of 48

Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea

  • Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea is sometimes referred to as the contemporaneity rule
  • For D to be criminally liable for any given offence, he must have the relevant mens rea at the same moment in time as he commits the actus reus
43 of 48

Exceptions to the contemporaneity

  • Problems can occur when there appears to be a 'continuing act' or a 'series of continuing acts'
44 of 48

Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1969)

  • D accidentally stopped car on a policemans foot
  • When the policeman asked him to remove the car from his foot, he refused
  • Court found Fagan guilty of causing injury to the policeman as leaving the car on the foot was seen as a continuing act
  • Even though he did not have the mens rea for the crime when he stopped the car on the foot, he did form the mens rea when he refused to move it 
45 of 48

Thabo Meli (1954)

  • D hit V over the head, intending to kill him
  • Believing the V was dead and trying to make it look like an accident, the D threw him off a clifff where he later died of exposure
  • The mens rea continued throughout as the defendant had set out to kill the victim
46 of 48

Church (1966)

  • D panicked, believing his victim was dead
  • Not the desired consequence, V went to van with woman for sexual purposes
  • She mocked his impotence and he attacked her and knocked her out
  • Threw her into a river where she drowned
  • D argued that all he had done wrong was to dispose of or conceal a dead body and that the mens rea for the attack on the woman ended when he thought her unconcious body was in fact dead
  • Court decided that the mens rea continued even after he thought she was dead so as to include her death from drowning
47 of 48

Dutch courage

  • Said to occur when D drinks alcohol in order to pluck up the courage to do something
  • Where D forms an intention to commit a crime but then drinks in order to enable them to carry out the crime, they cannot then claim that they did not have the mens rea at the time of comitting the offence (even if they were so intoxicated that they were unable to form the intention while actually committing the offence as seen in Gallagher in 1963
48 of 48


No comments have yet been made

Similar Law resources:

See all Law resources »See all Underlying principles of criminal liability resources »