Actus Reus

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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 30-04-11 18:33

The physical element of a crime, and can be one of three types:

·         An act

·         Omission

·         State of affairs

Voluntary Nature of the Actus Reus

The actus reus has to be voluntary on the part of the defendant, if the defendant commits the offence under duress or has no control over his actions he has not committed the actus reus. This was defined in Hill v Baxter (1958) where the judge defined examples of situations where the defendant is not in control:

·         Driver lost control of his vehicle because he was stung by a swarm of bees

·         Reflex action, muscle spasm

·         Where somebody pushes a second person and causes them to bump into a third person, this would cause the first pusher to be liable

This is not the case in state of affair cases however.

State of Affairs

These are rare cases where the defendant is still guilty despite the fact that they didn’t act of their accord, as shown in Larsonneur (1933).

Larsonneur (1933) -  The defendant had been ordered to leave the UK. She decided to go to Eire, but the Irish police deported her and took her back to the UK. She did not wish to go back and was not doing it voluntarily. When she landed in the UK she was immediately arrested. It did not matter that she had been brought back against her will.

Omissions as Actus Reus

As a general rule, an omission cannot count as actus reus, this is because in UK law we do not have a Good Samaritan act like they do in other countries such as France.



·         Enables the courts to easily charge for an omission, this happened when Princess Diana died and the French courts threated to charge the journalists for not helping

·         A rouge pretends to be seriously hurt in order to lure strangers in to then rob them

·         A risk that an untrained person may cause more harm

·         What is an ‘emergency situation

·         If several people witness an incident, do they all have to help

·         Do people have to put themselves at risk in order to satisfy this legislation

There are situations where an omission can be sufficient actus reus, this is the case where the defendant owed the victim a duty of care. There are six ways that a duty of care can be owed:

·         Statutory duty, s1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933

·         Contractual duty, Pittwood (1902)

·         Duty because of a relationship, Gibbons & Proctor (1918)

·         Official position, Dytham (1979)

·         If a duty  has been assumed voluntarily, Stone & Dobinson (1977)

·         When a defendant has set into chain a motion of events, Miller (1983), Santana-Bermudez (2003)

Nearly all omissions cases involve murder or gross negligence manslaughter or arson as the…


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