Criminal Law

Topics: Criminal law, Mens rea, Actus reus Pages: 30 (9386 words) Published: July 14, 2013
2

The elements of an offence

Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 General analysis of criminal offences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Limitations on the value of the Latin terms actus reus and mens rea . . . . 14 Proof of the ingredients of an offence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 Lawful excuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 Reflect and review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

page 12

University of London International Programmes

Introduction
This chapter considers, in general terms, the elements of an offence which the prosecution must establish, beyond reasonable doubt, before a person can be convicted. Before you go any further please listen to audio presentation 2 which you can access from the criminal law page of the VLE. It is important that you do so as it will give you an overview of the topic and guidance on the terms considered in this chapter (i.e. actus reus and mens rea). You will now be aware that every offence is defined somewhere – either in a statute or at common law – and will be composed of a number of elements with which you should be familiar. Note that you should be equally familiar with the elements of each defence you consider as part of this course. The elements of an offence are the external elements (actus reus) and the internal – or mental – elements of the offence (mens rea) which are contained in the definition of that offence (which will be found either at common law or in a statute). The offence of criminal damage contrary to s.1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 is used to exemplify analysis of the actus reus and the mens rea of a criminal offence. Chapters 3 to 6 examine the general principles of actus reus and mens rea in more detail.

Essential reading and listening


Wilson, Chapter 4: ‘Actus reus’, Sections 4.1–4.4 and Chapter 6: ‘Mens rea’, Sections 6.1–6.5. Audio presentation 2.



Learning outcomes
By the end of this chapter and the relevant readings you should be able to:  

find the definition of a criminal offence demonstrate an understanding of the constituent elements of that definition, i.e. actus reus and mens rea demonstrate an awareness of the limits of the terms actus reus and mens rea when used without further clarification.



Criminal law Chapter 2 The elements of an offence

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2.1 General analysis of criminal offences
Every criminal offence is made up of a number of elements, each of which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt before a defendant can be convicted of the offence with which he or she has been charged. A criminal offence might be a statutory offence, such as theft contrary to s.1 of the Theft Act 1968, or it might be an offence at common law. Most offences are now statutory but a few – including murder and manslaughter (see Chapters 7 and 8) – remain offences at common law. Traditionally criminal offences are analysed by reference to the actus reus and the mens rea. The Latin maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea means that the act itself does not constitute guilt unless it was done with a guilty mind. Another way of saying this is that criminal liability requires BOTH wrongdoing and culpability or blameworthiness. This is, in fact, not a completely accurate description of the criminal law as many crimes do not require mens rea, i.e. blameworthiness. Where mens rea is not required liability is termed ‘strict’.

Actus reus
This is the ‘external’ element of a crime – i.e. some form of measurable wrongdoing. It comprises the actor’s conduct, together with any circumstances which make that conduct wrongful, and, in the case of a result crime, the consequences.

Mens rea
This is the ‘internal’ or mental element of a crime. It must be proved that at the time the defendant was responsible for the actus reus of the offence with which he is charged, he...
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