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Elements of Criminal Liability (actus reus)

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Muna Jaye

on 18 September 2018

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Transcript of Elements of Criminal Liability (actus reus)

Elements of Criminal liability
To be guilty of most crimes there are two elements that the Crown Prosecution Service must prove?

Actus reus
-guilty act

Mens rea
-guilty mind

Each crime has its own actus reus and mens rea and they are different for all offences.

Both are needed for criminal liability
The actus reus of an offence is usually a positive act - In other words the defendant actually did what he/she was accused of doing, for example:

Taking property belonging to another (theft)
Punching someone (GBH)
Killing someone (Manslaughter/Murder)
The actus reus can be an omission to act – (failure to act) where you did not act in a situation where you were legally bound to do so.

You can only be guilty of an omission if you have a legal duty of care to act such as:

Act / commission
A statutory duty – where the duty is set out in a statute (Act of Parliament) look up the case of
R v Lowe

A contractual duty – where the duty is written in a contract look up the case of
R v Pittwood

A public duty (requirement to protect others)– where you have an official duty to act. See
R v Dytham

A relationship duty – See
R v Gibbins & Proctor

 A duty arising from conduct (creating a dangerous situation)– See
R v Miller

Voluntarily undertaking a duty of care – See
R v Stone & Dobinson

Research these:
A statutory duty
(failure to act)
– failing to display a tax disc or failing to stop at a red light or as in
R v Lowe
where offences where committed under the Children & Young Persons Act 1933. Guilty of wilful neglect

A contractual duty

R v Pittwood
- where a railway worker failed to lower the crossing barrier at a railway line. Guilty gross negligence manslaughter

A public duty
(requirement to protect others)
– R v Dytham
- where a police officer failed to break up a fight. Guilty of the common-law offence of wilful misconduct in public office

A relationship duty

R v Gibbins
& Proctor where a father and his partner starved their child to death. Guilty of murder

A duty arising from conduct (creating a dangerous situation)

R v Miller
where a tramp living in a squat fell asleep and set light to a mattress with a cigarette, but did nothing to stop the fire spreading and merely moved into another room . Guilty of arson

Voluntarily undertaking a duty of care

R v Stone & Dobinson
where proper care was not taken of their invalid sister to whom they had volunteered to care for. Guilty of murder

Consider the situation and decide if criminal liability could attach to any of the people involved

Victor is knocked down and injured by David’s car, David just drives on
Peter, a passerby, sees Victor but just walks on by
Clive, a policeman, is just coming to the end of his shift and cannot be bothered to help Victor

Clive (Policeman)
David has failed to stop when involved in an accident: this is a criminal offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988, s. 170 (2)

Peter has no type of duty towards Victor and has not committed a criminal offence

Clive is under a public duty to help because he is on duty

The actus reus of an offence can be being found in a set of circumstances , such as:

being found in possession of an offensive weapon
being found in possession of drugs
being found drunk on the public highway
driving while under the influence of alcohol

State of Affairs Offence
The accused must have brought about (caused) the prohibited result for result crimes, such as an unlawful killing or wounding

There are two tests for causation:
in fact
in law

Causation in fact is established using the ‘but for’ test, but for the defendant’s actions would the result have occurred?

Look up the cases of
R v White

R v Pagett
that both illustrate this point

R v White
– poured arsenic in his mother’s tea, but she died of a heart attack before she drank it – but for his actions she would have died anyway – no causation in fact! Guilty of attempted murder.

R v Pagett
– was being fired at by the police, pulled his girlfriend in front of him and used her as a human shield – but for his actions she would not have died – causation is established! Guilty of unlawful act manslaughter

Causation in law is established when the defendant’s actions are a
cause of the result.

Look up the case of
R v Smith

R V Smith
– a soldier was stabbed during a fight in the barracks. He was taken to the first aid post, but on the way, he was dropped twice – the stabbing was the significant and operative cause of death not the dropping – causation in law is established! Guilty

Causation is not applied to the defendant if ‘palpably wrong’ medical treatment is received – see the cases of
R v Jordan
R v Cheshire:

R v Jordan
– the victim was stabbed and died in hospital as a result of an allergic reaction to the medical treatment given. Causation was not applied to the defendant as the hospital administered ‘palpably wrong’ medical treatment!

R v Cheshire
– shot a person who was taken to hospital where a tracheotomy was performed. Weeks later he had breathing problems from the scar and died. The hospital had not recognised the likely cause but Cheshire had shot the victim and therefore his actions were held to be the cause!

'Palpably wrong'
If a victim is injured whilst making a reasonable, foreseeable escape attempt, the defendant will have caused and be held responsible for the victim’s injuries.

Shown in
R v Roberts
where the victim took avoiding action by jumping out of a travelling car to evade unwanted sexual advances. Guilty of ABH

If the victim has a pre-existing condition or an aversion to treatment, then the thin skull rule will apply, meaning that you take your victim as you find him.

R v Blaue
where the stabbing was still the operating and substantial cause of the death, despite the refusal of a blood transfusion due to religious beliefs. Guilty of manslaughter (diminished responsibility)

Actus reus can be:

A commision act

An omission to act

A state of affairs (circumstances)

For result crimes the following must also be considered:

Causation must be established
The thin skull rule
Reasonable escape attempts

Research activity
What is the actus reus of the following offences?

The actus reus of murder?
The actus reus of theft?
The actus reus of assault?


Murder – to unlawfully kill
Theft – to appropriate property belonging to another
Assault – to cause a person to apprehend immediate unlawful force
R v lowe
D a man of low intelligence, was alleged to have neglected his baby daughter by failing to summon medical assistance when she became ill. The child died some 10 days later of dehydration and gross emaciation. The woman with whom D had been living had four other children and was of subnormal intelligence. D stated that he had told her to take the child to the doctor, but she had not done so because she was afraid that the child would be taken into care.
R v Pittwood
The defendant was employed by a railway company to man the gate at a level crossing. The defendant lifted the gate to allow a cart to pass and then went off to lunch failing to put it back down. A train later collided with a horse and cart killing the train driver. The defendant was liable for the death of the train driver as it was his contractual duty to close the gate.
R v Dytham
The defendant was a police officer. He stood by whilst a bouncer kicked a man to death. He was charged with the offence of misconduct in a public officer. He argued that the offence could not be committed by an omission as it specifically requires misconduct, but his argument failed.

R v Gibbins
D and his common law wife failed to feed the man's 7 year-old child, Nelly, and she died from starvation. The woman hated Nelly, and was clearly the moving force.

R v Miller
D a homeless squatter was sleeping in a building, and fell asleep on his mattress. When he woke up, he saw that his cigarette had caused the mattress to smoulder. Instead of calling for help, D just moved into another room. The fire flared up and spread. D was convicted of arson.
R v Stone & Dobinson
S and D allowed Stone's ill and unstable sister , Fanny, to live in their house. Fanny was suffering from anorexia and her condition deteriorated, until she became bed-ridden. She needed medical help, but none was summoned and she eventually died severely emaciated and covered in bed sores and filth. S and D were convicted of manslaughter.
Winzar v Chief Constable of Kent
research this
Dropped twice on the way to hospital
Poor medical

What was the cause of death?
Causation in fact
Head of School tells Muna to walk as part of an economy drive
Muna walks through the park and encounters Dick a begger who asks him for £5. Muna refuses and tells Dick to get a job.
Angered by Muna's abuse Dick attacks Mark a passing jogger causing his death
'But For'
the heads insistence that Muna walk to work would mark have died?
'But For'
'But For'
Muna's abuse of Dick would Mark have died?
Dicks attack would Mark have died?
his decision was the initiating factor
Muna's abuse angered Dick
Dick's serious injuries killed him
Full transcript