Fault is the idea that a person is responsible for their actions and that they behaved wrongly. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as a ‘thing wrongly done’ and ‘responsibility for something wrong’ and as the idea of ‘blame’.
It could be argued that fault is fundamentally important in criminal law because of the terminology used; words such as ‘guilt’ and ‘punishment’ clearly suggest the idea of fault or wrongdoing.
Fault is also present in mens rea. A person cannot be held responsible for a crime unless they have a ‘guilty mind’ and the law reflects the varying levels of the mens rea. The highest level is intent where something is their aim and purpose (Mohan) and this is necessary for murder. A person who has intent is clearly more at fault than someone who commit’s a crime recklessly (Cunningham); where they realise there is a risk, but continues anyway. Therefore someone who has intent is punished more severely.
The law also recognises that the person who acts with oblique intent is just as much at fault as those with intent. It was confirmed in the cases of Nedrick, Woollin and R v Matthews and Alleyne that the person who knew that death or serious injury was virtually certain as a result of their actions is regarded as having intended that consequence.
The fundamental importance of fault can also be seen in non fatal offences. To be guilty of the most serious offence - S.18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the defendant must intend to cause serious harm and for this offence there is a maximum life sentence. But a person who only intends some harm or who acts recklessly is considered to be less at fault and the maximum sentence for this offence ( under S.20 ) is five years. Recklessness usually results in a less severe sentence. Recklessness always has to be subjective (R v G).
The actus reus also demonstrate the importance of fault and that the action must be voluntary. Therefore an omission will not usually form the actus reus, but the
law recognises that in some situations a person who fails to act is at fault.
For example in Stone and Dobinson they were at fault because they had had assumed responsibility for someone and in Pitwood he had a contractual duty.
Defences also illustrate that fault is fundamental. For example a person who acts in self defence as in Bird or Palmer is considered not to be at fault at all. Automatism (Hill v Baxter) is also a complete defence as is involuntary intoxication, as long as the person is so drunk that they cannot form the mens rea ( Kingston ). There are also partial defences like diminished responsibility and loss of control for murder and are defined in Sections 52 and 54 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. If successful the defences reduce the charge to manslaughter.
Fault is also important in civil law. A person…