Actus Reus

Topics: Criminal law, Crime, Grievous bodily harm Pages: 13 (3820 words) Published: April 27, 2013
Criminal Liability

Actus reus

The actus reus of a crime is the voluntary, deliberate act of the defendant. seen in the case of Hill v baxter 1958- in this case the court gave examples in a situation where a driver of a car would not be driving voluntary e.g. being stung by a bee and being hit on the head by a stone.

The actus reus is any act of the defendant that is unlawful and has the consequence of causing injury to the victim that the law classifies as a wound or grevious bodily harm.

Involuntary acts

Everybody performs involuntary acts, such as closing their eyes whilst sneezing. if a strong person holds a knife in the hand of a weaker person and uses the knife to stab another person, then the weaker person could not be guilty of stabbing the victim. such actions would not form the actus reus of a crime and so a defendant could not be guilty.


an omission is a failure to act. the law only makes a person liable for his failure to act where he has a duty to act. the duty can arise when.

• Where a person contract requires him to act. Pittwood 1902- gatekeeper failed to close the crossing gate. hay cart hit by a train: one person killed and one injured. failed to carry out his contractual duty.

• When a person takes on a duty voluntarily. Stone and Dobinson 1977- allowed stones elderly sister to die from neglect, she was anorexic and stayed in her room. failed to carry out the voluntary duty of care they had taken on.

• Where a persons public position requires him to act. Dytham 1979- uniformed police officer saw man being kicked to death. Did nothing and drove off. Failed to carry out his official duty.

• Where a person fails to minimize the harmful consequence of his act. Muller 1983- squatter started a fire by accident but did nothing about it. Found guilty of arson. Created a dangerous risk to others then failed to do what a reasonable person would have done. creating the risk meant he owed a duty of care.

• Where an act of parliament requires a person to act. wearing a seat belt whilst driving.


In order to prove the defendant committed a crime, we must show that it was the act of the defendant that caused the injury to the victim and not some other cause. There must be a direct link from the defendants conduct to the consequence for the victim, chain of causation.

Factual causation

The defendant can only be guilty if the consequence would not have happened 'but for' his act. seen in the case of Pagett 1983- defendant used his girl friend, as a human shield while he shot at armed police. The police fired back and killed the girl friend. Pagett convicted of manslaughter because she would not have died but for his act.

Legal causation

once factual causation established you must then prove legal. the chain of causation must remain unbroken if there is to be criminal liability. The key test for legal causation is operating and substantial. the original injury must the operating and substantial cause. seen in the case of Jordan 1956- the victim was stabbed in the stomach. he was treated in hospital and the wound were healing well. However, he died from an allergic reaction to wrongly given antibiotics. the doctors were the operating and substantial cause of the victim death and Jordan was not guilty of murder. the chain of causation was not broken.

Intervening acts

Known as novus actus interveniens, seen in the case of Malcherek 1981. Defendant attacked a women causing injuries so severe she was out on a life machine. doctors decided to switch off the machine after determining that the victim was brain dead and no prospect of recovery. the operating and substantial cause of death was the injuries inflicted by the defendant. There was no break in the chain of causation.

Take your victim as you find them

The law does not take into account the characteristic s of the victim. Seen in the case of Blaue...
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