Topics: Criminal law, Crime, Police Pages: 50 (14988 words) Published: August 13, 2013
The meaning of crime

A crime can be defined as any act or omission of duty that results in harm to society and which is punishable by the state. You should take particular note of the fact that a crime, by definition, harms society as a whole. For this reason, while not undermining the impact that crimes have on particular victims, crimes are prosecuted by the state, i.e. it is not the role of the victim to prosecute the person(s) committing the crime. Accordingly, criminal cases in Australia are reported as R v Jones….with the R standing for Regina (Latin for Queen, representing the Crown and therefore the state) and Jones being the accused.

The elements of crime: actus reus, mens rea

For the prosecution to obtain a conviction, they must prove the existence of all elements of a crime to the requisite criminal standard of proof, being beyond a reasonable doubt. See below under the Criminal Trial process for more details.

With the exception of strict liability offences (see below) for a criminal offence to have occurred, the accused must have committed both elements of the crime: Actus reus: refers to the actions (or in rare cases the failure to act/the omission) of the accused; that is that the accused actually did the act Mens rea: refers to the mental state of the accused; i.e. that the accused intended the actions.

While defences to criminal charges will be discussed in more detail (refer to the Criminal Trial process below) it is a good idea at this early stage for you to make the connection between the elements of a crime and defences. If you think about the essential elements of a crime, you will note that specific defences, if proven, operate to remove one of those elements thus precluding the prosecution from proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, the defence of self defence removes the mens rea element as, if proven, clearly the accused’s intention was to defend themselves or a third party and not commit the crime.

Strict liability offences

Strict liability offences are minor in nature, e.g. speeding. For these offences it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove mens rea; proof of the act alone is sufficient to constitute a crime. Strict liability offences can only be successfully defended if the accused can prove that the actual act did not occur as mens rea is irrelevant to this category of offences.


To prove a criminal charge, the prosecution must show that there is a link between the act and the crime. That is, that it is an act by which an effect is produced. For example, if someone was stabbed and they died on the operating table, then it is the act of the stabbing that caused the person to die, rather than the fault of the doctor. This link is called causation. The prosecution needs to prove that the act was the substantial and operative cause of the crime. A good case to examine on causation is Blaue v R (1975) 1 WLR 1411.

Categories of crime

Including offences against the person, offences against the sovereign, economic offences (property/white collar/computer), drug offences, driving offences, public order offences, preliminary crimes (attempts and conspiracy)

You should take care not to get confused between categories of crime and examples of specific offences. Understanding the wording in the syllabus is crucial. For example, ‘offences against persons’ is a category crime, whereas ‘manslaughter’ and ‘sexual assault’ are examples of specific crimes that come under the type of crime ‘offences against persons’.

You should aim to understand what each category of crime is and be able to correctly categorise specific offences appropriately. An example is always an excellent way to support a definition of a concept and you should aim to do this in Legal Studies.

Creating a mnemonic can be an effective way for you to remember the categories of crimes as in Pink Snails Eat …

The seven categories of crime referred to in...
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