Explain the Meaning of Actus Reus and Mens Rea Essay Sample

Explain the Meaning of Actus Reus and Mens Rea Pages
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Actus reus is the Latin term for a guilty act or the prohibited conduct. It must be a voluntary act as stated in Bratty v by Denning. An involuntary act is one done by the muscles without control of the mind or you may be concussed. Actus reus is all the external elements of a crime. Actus reus can also be an omission. The general rule is that there is no duty to act as stated by Stephens J when he said that there was no obligation to save a stranger from drowning, however there are exemptions.

For example having a duty to act because of your contract as illustrated in R v Adomako where the anaesthetist failed to notice a detached oxygen tube and thus failed to carry out his contractual obligations; in R v Gibbons & Proctor it was held that there is a duty to look after your relatives (need not be blood related) where a father and step mother failed to care for their daughter/step daughter; in R v Stone and Dobinson it was held that where you take on responsibility for care then you have a duty to fulfil that care unlike in this case where Stone was held to have failed in his duty to look after his sick sister adequately after she moved into his home. In R v Miller it was held that failing to resolve a dangerous situation you created could lead to liability – the defendant accidentally set light to a mattress and then moved rooms rather than trying to put it out. There is also a duty owed by public office (R v Dytham) and statutory duties such as Road Traffic Act.

Explain the meaning of causation

Causation is establishing that the defendant caused the result both factually and legally. The factual test is but for the act of the defendant would the result have occurred. If the answer is yes as in R v White where but for putting cyanide in his mums drink would she have died then the D is not liable (she died of an unrelated cause). If the answer is no as in R v Pagett then the D is the cause.

Legal causation requires that the D is the operative and substantial cause of the result. D does not have to be the only cause but it must be more than minimal. In R v Smith whilst there was medical negligence it was held that the V died of the original wounds – these were operating on the V when he died,

A defendant may wish to argue a novus actus interveniens i.e claim that there was another act which caused the outcome such as medical negligence, unforeseen events and the thin skull rule. In R v Cheshire it was held that medical negligence only breaks the chain of causation if the act of the doctor rendered the D’s act insignificant. A case example is R v Jordan where the doctor gave a healing patient an antibiotic which they were allergic to and this was in the patient’s notes. The treatment was held as palpably wrong and it was independent of the Ds act.

If the intervening act is reasonably foreseeable then the D is still liable as in R v Pagett where it was reasonably foreseeable that the police would shoot back at Pagett. Furthermore, the D may still be liable for injuries suffered to a victim trying to escape unless the victim’s response was daft. In R v Roberts the girl jumping form the car to escape an assault was held as a reasonable response.

Finally, the D has to take the victim as they find them meaning that the victim’s particular physical frailties or moral beliefs do not break the chain. This is illustrated in R v Blaue where the V was stabbed and then refused a blood transfusion as she was a jehovahs witness, The d was liable even though she would have survived with the treatment.

Explain the meaning of mens rea

Mens rea is the guilty mind. It is the state of mind the defendant has at the time of committing the actus reus. The actus reus and mens rea must coincide. There are various types of mens rea. The most blameworthy is intention of which there are two types: direct and indirect (oblique). Direct intent is where the defendant wants the outcome and indirect intent, as defined by Lord Steyn in R v Woollin is when the defendant did not want the particular outcome but the jury believe he was virtually certain that it would occur. For example, the jury would have needed to decide whether Woollin wanted to kill or cause GBH to his son or whether he was virtually certain that by throwing it against a wall that death or GBH would occur. The next type of mens rea is recklessness. This was established in the case of R v Cunningham and is known as subjective recklessness. It is where the defendant takes an unjustifiable risk and is aware that he is taking an unjustifiable risk as to the outcome of his actions. In Cunningham the jury decided that Cunningham was not aware of the risk of poisoning from removing a gas metre.

Explain the principle of transferred malice

Transferred malice is the principle that where someone carries out the actus reus of a crime but the result is slightly different to that planned then the mens rea is transferred to the actual result. For example if A wants to kill B and shoots but misses and kills C then A is still liable for murder as his malice (intent) is transferred to the actual victim. This was illustrated in R v Latimer where A went to hit B with a belt which recoiled and hit C instead. Latimer’s intent to harm was transferred to C. The actus reus and the mens rea must still coincide so where A plans an outcome but in trying to achieve this commits a different actus reus the malice cannot be transferred as illustrated in R v Pembliton where A intended to scare a crowd by throwing a stone but missed and broke a window thus having the actus reus of Criminal Damage and mens rea of assault thus the malice could not be transferred.

Explain the principle of coincidence of actus reus and mens rea (Contemporaneity rule)

It is a general principle that crimes require the actus reus and mens rea to occur at the same time for liability. For example for a battery the D must apply unlawful force and have intended it or been reckless at the time. However, there are certain situations where the actus reus and mens rea may not start at the same time. It has been held that provided during the course of events they do coincide then the crime exists. This was illustrated in Fagan v MPC where the D drove onto the policeman’s foot – here we have the actus reus of battery but no mens rea as D did not realise, however, when he was asked to move he refused and so at this point he had the mens rea and as the actus reus was still continuing there was a coincidence. Another situation is where there is a series of events which the courts have held as one single transaction and if the mens rea was present at the outset or throughout most of the events then it is deemed a coincidence. This was illustrated in R v Thabo-Meli where the D thought he had killed the victim but actually killed her when he tried to get rid of the body as he had the plan to kill from the outset the acts were treated as one transaction to kill.

Explain the meaning, using illustrations, of Strict liability

Discuss the criminal liability of D for shouting at the C

Discuss the criminal liability of D for kicking C

Discuss the criminal liability of D for hitting C and causing temporary unconsciousness

Discuss the criminal liability of D for punching C and causing a deep cut from his ring and a broken leg

Discuss the criminal liability of D for stabbing C with a knife twice

Outline the types of sentences the courts will consider in relation to….

Outline the factors the courts will take into account in relation to….

Outline the aims of sentencing

Explain the meaning of Bail and apply to ….

Outline the procedure the D will face prior to the trial (do it for triable either way)

What if it was an indictable or summary offence?

Outline the routes of appeal for each type of offence.


Explain the meaning of Duty of care

The modern law is laid out in Caparo v Dickman 1990 where the following needed to be proved:

That the harm was reasonably foreseeable to that type of person (this is effectively Lord Atkins’ neighbour principle from Donoghue v Stevenson where it was held that a manufacturer could foresee harm to a consumer by providing a defective product. This was also illustrated in Kent v Griffiths where it was reasonably foreseeable that further harm could occur to a patient by an ambulance crew if they did not turn up within a reasonable period of time.

There must be proximity between the parties meaning a relationship in time and/or space. This was not the case in Bourhill v Young where it was held that as the plaintiff did not see the accident then she had no relationship to it. Finally the court will consider whether it is fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty. This focuses on public policy and whether imposing a duty would benefit society or not in that it could be too costly for public services or prevent them from doing their jobs out of fear of being sued. For example Hill v West Yorkshire police where it was held that the police owe a duty to the general public and not specific individuals.

Explain the meaning of breach of duty

Lord Alderson in Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks described negligence as doing something the reasonable man would not do or failing to do something that the reasonable man would do. The reasonable man is held to have an ordinary level of skill and knowledge and this is the standard of care that must be met. However, if you are a professional then you have to display the level of skill and expertise of the profession you are holding yourself out to be (Bolam v Friern hospital). Learners are expected to meet the standard of a qualified person as illustrated in Nettleship v Weston (learner driver).

The judges look at the following factors in deciding if someone has not acted as a reasonable man: how risky was the activity? The higher the risk then the more precautions you need to take and the lower the risk then less precautions are needed, thus in Bolton v Stone it was held that erecting a fence was an adequate precaution given that the cricket ball had only been hit out of the ground 6 times in 25 years. However, if there is a low chance of the risk materialising but if it does then a high potential of serious injury then extra precautions should be taken as in Paris v Stepney where the employee had lost sight in one eye but was not supplied with goggles and ended up being blinded. The judges will also weigh up the cost of precautions and will not expect excessive costs to be taken although this will be according to the circumstances, thus in Latimer v AEC it was held that putting sawdust on the factory floor was an adequate precaution as otherwise the factory would have to close down. Other considerations are whether the activity is socially useful (Watts v Hertfordshire CC).

Explain whether the breach caused the damage

For factual causation the question is but for the omission of the defendant would the damage have occurred. If the answer is yes then the D is not the factual cause as in Barnet v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital where even if the doctor had seen the patient he would still have died from the arsenic poisoning. Where there is more than one cause of the outcome then it must be proven that it is an actual cause and not just a possible cause so the junior doctor in Wilsher was held not to have caused the baby’s blindness as it was only one of six possible causes.

Explain whether the damage was not too remote (ie reasonably foreseeable)

The damage must not be too remote in that the type of damage must be reasonable foreseeable. In Wagon Mound it was held the damage was too remote as the sequence of events were not reasonably foreseeable i.e. that welder sparks would ignite a piece of cotton which would blow in the wind and land on some oil and then set it on fire. However, in Hughes v Lord Advocate it was held that as the type of damage was reasonably foreseeable (getting injured by a paraffin lamp) it did not matter if the sequence of events was not. The thin skull rule means that you are responsible for all the consequences of the damage on the person injured as in Smith v Leech Brain where an employee was burnt on the lip with molten metal which triggered a latent cancer from which he died. The factory was liable for the entire extent of the injuries.

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