Actus Reus, Omission and Causation

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  • Created by: lnixon2
  • Created on: 17-11-13 15:32

Actus Reus

To be liable in criminal law for an offence it must be proved by the prosecution 'beyond reasonable doubt' that D committed.

(1) A voluntary prohibited act (Actus Reus) i.e. the physical elements with (2) a guilty state of mind .

Each crime has its own Actus Reus laid out by statute or interpreted by the judges through case law.

Generally speaking in English Law, the vast majority of crimes require the defendant to commit a prohibited act. There is no general duty to act in order to do good deeds. However, gradually the courts have come to recognise a limited number of situations where a person will commit an offence if they fail to act. 

The courts at common law have developed 5 'duty situations' where a defendant will be under a duty to act and if there is an omission and the defendant fails to act, then he or she will be criminally liable.

•Duty Arising out of contract.

  -Where the D fails  to fulfil a  contractual obligation that is likely to endanger lives, the criminal law will impose a duty to act. This duty will be held by doctors, Members of the emergency services, life guards.

R v Pittwood (1902) If the defendant has a contractual duty to protect the public, the criminal law will impose a duty to act. Any failures to fulfil the contractual duty will amount to a breach of duty.

•Duty arising out of a relationship

-The existence of close relationships can give rise to a duty to act. Parents are under a duty to protect their children from physical harm. Husbands and wives owe a duty to each other.

R v Gibbons and Proctor (1918) If the defendant has a special relationship to the victim (e.g. parent or partner) then a duty of care is owed. Any failure to fulfil that duty will lead to a breach of duty and a criminal offence.

Duty arising from the assumption of care for another

-If a voluntarily undertakes to care for another person who is unable to care for himself, a duty will be owed to that person.

R v Stone & Dobinson (1977) If a person voluntarily assumes care for another (either expressly or through implication) then a duty of care owed. Any failure to fulfil that duty will amount to a breach of duty.

•Duty Arising from the creation of a dangerous situation

-Where a person inadvertently starts a chain of events  which results in the harm to another or his property, that person is under a duty to take such steps to prevent or minimise the risk of harm.

•R v Miller (1983) The defendant had created a dangerous situation and when he was aware of the mattress on fire he was under a duty to minimise the danger. A failure to do anything about it amounted to an omission and breach of duty.

•R v Evans (2009) The


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