WHAT IS ACTUS REUS? → it is the physical element of a crime. It can be:

  • an act

  • a failure to act (omission)

  • a 'state of affairs'

The act/omission must be voluntary on the part of D. If D has no control over his actions, then he has not committed the offence. In Hill v Baxter 1958, the court gave examples of where a driver lost control of his vehicle because he was stung by a swarm of bees, struck on the head by a stone or had a heart attack whilst driving.

    • Kay v Butterworth: D fell asleep whilst driving and killed people. D's conduct was voluntary as he has chosen to drive even though he knew he was tired.

Transferred malice applies when it comes to AR (Mitchell 1983). There are also rare instances in which D has been convicted even though they did not act voluntarily. These situations involve what are known as 'state of affairs' cases (Larsonneur 1933)

Prosecution has to prove that D committed the AR voluntary → Article 6 European Convention of Human Rights → innocent until proven guilty.

OMISSIONS? The normal rule is that an omission cannot make a person guilty of an offence!

Exceptions to this rule

There are exceptions to this rule, an an omission can make a person guilty of an offence. An omission is only sufficient for the AR where there is a duty to act. There are 6 ways in which such a duty can exist:

  1. A statutory duty: an Act of Parliament can create liability for an omission

    • s170 Road Traffic Act 1988: failing to stop and report a traffic accident.

    • s6 Road Traffic Act 1988: failing to provide a specimen of breath

    • s5 Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004: applies where a person in the same household fails to take such steps as they reasonably could have to protect the victim.

  1. A contractual duty: this is where an employee fails to do their duty, and as a result someone is injured. This would make him guilty of an offence (Pitwood 1902).

  2. A duty because of a relationship: this is usually a parent-child relationship as a parent has a duty to care for young people (Gibbins and Proctor 1918). However, a duty can also exist the opposite way around, where a grown up child is looking after their elderly parent.

  3. A duty which has been undertaken voluntarily: In the above case of (Gibbins and Proctor 1918) the partner had voluntarily undertaken to look after the girl. She therefore had a duty towards the child. When she failed to feed the child, she was guilty of murder because of that omission. Another example is Stone and Dobinson 1977 where the failure to help or summon medical help from other sources meant that they were breaching their duty. A more recent case where a mother was guilty of manslaughter through her


Smith E


A fairly comprehensive summary of the key cases on actus reus, that would suit those who are happy to revise from a text-heavy material. The use of bullet points makes the material easy to memorise. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 is a neat addition to the statutory duty section (very often, the Road Traffic Act 1988 is cited).



Very nice!



Very useful thanks!



Clear description of Actus Reus with a variety of relevant cases to support each point.