Actus reus refers to the actions or the failure to act (omission) of the accused.The actus reus is not merely an act, it may consist in a state of affairs not including an act at all. For example, being in charge of a motor vehicle on a road while unfit to drive through drinks or drugs against the road traffic Act.
For as long as the accused is in-charge of the vehicle while unfit, the actus reus is committed. An actus reus must produce a particular result. This leads to the classification of actus reus into ‘result crimes’ and ‘conduct crimes’.
In result crimes, the law is interested only in the result of the act committed while in conduct crimes the law is interested in the doing of the act which is prohibited by law.
NORTHERN IRELAND, Lord Denning stated that the requirement that it should be a voluntary act is essential, not only in a murder case, but in every criminal case.
If the actus reus of the crime is an act, it must then be proved that the accused actually did the act. It is not enough to prove that the accused did the act, the prosecution must also prove that the accused did the act voluntarily. Only a voluntary act or omission can qualify as an actus reus.
For example, where ‘A’, a military soldier engages in the teaching or demonstrating the use, application, or making of firearm, explosive, or incendiary device or a technique capable of causing injury or death and which eventually leads to the death of a soldier, such an act is seen to be an involuntary act. In BRATTY V. A.G OF
Contract. In the case of R. V. PITTINOOD where WRIGHT L.J. held that the accused owed a duty to the victim and was liable for gross and criminal negligence for failure to open a level-crossing gate as an employee of a railway company. Liability can also arise where a person has a right of control over the action of another.
He is liable for failure to exercise that control when the other commits an offence. In the case of Tuck V. ROBSON, a landlord did not require his customers to leave after closing time and so the customers were liable for consuming alcohol after hours but the court held that the landlord was also guilty of aiding and abetting the offence. This means guilty mind. It also means criminal purpose and the knowledge of the wrongfulness of conduct.
Mens rea was defined in DPP V. MAJEWSKI as the state of mind stigmatized as wrongful by the criminal. The actus reus of a crime may come in different ways. In murder, it might be the stabbing of the victim. In theft, it might be defendants taking of money from a wallet.
Actus reus does not only constitute the doing of an act but also the omission to do an act. However, the general rule is that, a person is not guilty for omitting to do something. This rule was applied in the case of WYLCHAUON D.C. V. NATIONAL RIVERS AUTHORITY where WATKINS L.J. held that failing to prevent or take steps to clear a blockage in a system for which it was responsible did not constitute an offence. However, there exist exceptions to this rule which one of them is where one has failed to perform a duty one has voluntarily undertaken. In the case of INSTAN, where a niece had failed in her duty to look after an aunty.
Lord Coleridge held that she was under a moral obligation to the deceased from which arose a legal duty towards her, that legal duty she has willfully and deliberately left unperformed with the consequence that there has been an acceleration of the death of the deceased owning to the non-performance of that legal duty. Another case in which the court held the omission to do an act to constitute an offence is the case of STONE V. DOBNSONwhere the court held a man and his mistress guilty of manslaughter when the victim died after they had failed to summon medical attention. Also, liability can arise by failure to perform a duty imposed by law. This can be seen in the case of GIBBONS and PROCTOR where the court held that a father was guilty of murder when he starved his child to death. Moreso, liability can be incurred by omission where one fails to perform a duty imposed by
Other instances where one can incur liability by omission is where the language of a statute can be read as imposing liability for not doing some thing and where one unwittingly creates a dangerous situation which one is under a duty to put right and he does not.
MENS REA In Actus Reus
This means guilty mind. It also means criminal purpose and the knowledge of the wrongfulness of conduct. Mens rea was defined in D.P.P V. MAJEWSKI as the state of mind stigmatized as wrongful by the criminal law which when compounded with the relevant prohibited conduct, constitutes a particular offence. The words ‘knowingly’ and ‘willfully’ are terms which give rise to mens rea in a legislature.
Where an offence requires mens rea, the prosecution must prove that the accused had mens rea at the time he did the act which caused the actus reus. In order to determine whether mens rea, that is to say, guilty mind or intention, is an essential element of the offence charged, it is necessary to look at the object and terms of the law which creates the offence.
In many offences where the accused’s conduct is required to produce a particular consequence, liability can be based either on his intention or his recklessness as to that consequence. Where the definition of the actus reus of the offence charged requires the accused‘s conduct to produce a particular consequence.
He has a sufficient mental state as to that consequence if he intended it to occur. There are two types of intention with regard to prohibited consequences: ‘Direct’ and ‘Obilque’ intention.