27 March, 2007

Module 3 – The Concept of Liability – An Introduction to Criminal Liability

Today we started Module 3 – The Concept of Liability. We began with an introduction to Criminal Liability.

To be guilty of most criminal offences, it is necessary to show two things – the actus
and the mens rea. Each crime has its own actus and mens rea.

The actus reus is the physical element of the crime. The mens rea is the mental element of the crime – what was the defendant thinking or not thinking about before or during the committing of the crime.

The actus reus can be:-

  • An act;
  • A failure to act (an omission);
  • A state of affairs or strict liability issue.

The actus reus must be a voluntary act – not a reflex action. If there is an absence of fault in an action then a person is generally not liable. The criminal law is usually concerned with fault of the defendant.

There are however, exceptions to these rules – these are known as state of affair cases or strict liability cases. Please refer to your revision guides and class notes for more details.

The normal rule is that an omission or failure to act is not an actus reus. However, there are exceptions to this rule. These are:-

  • Where the defendant has a contractual duty
  • Where there is a duty because of a relationship – between parent and child for example
  • Where a duty has been taken on voluntarily
  • Where there is a duty because of the defendant’s official position – e.g. a policeman
  • Where a duty arises because the defendant has set in motion a chain of events

Mens rea has different levels. The “highest” form of mens rea is intent where the defendant decides deliberately to commit an offence (see Mohan). There is also indirect intent. To prove this you need to show that the defendant was aware of the risks they were taking and that the defendant undertook a voluntary act which you could be virtually certain would lead to serious bodily harm or death (see Nedrik). Finally, there is recklessness – where a defendant knowingly takes an unjustifiable risk. The test for this was set out in Cunningham.

Please refer to your revision guides and the notes from class for more on these points.

We will revisit these concepts many times throughout this module when we start to look at the individual offences against the person. It is important that you understand these as you will need to apply the law to various scenarios as part of your exam.

Additional Reading

Please look at the revision guides on this topic

Please refer to the books in the Resource Centre

  • Hill v Baxter
  • Airedale NHS Trust v Bland
  • Pittwood Dytham
  • R v Gibbons & Proctor
  • R v Stone & Dobinson
  • Miller
  • DPP v Santana-Bermudez

Please remember to hand in your essay on the legal profession after the Easter Holidays.

Please remember the arranged revision day for 10 April 2007


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