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Actus Reus: Definition

Actus reus in simple term means the “guilty act”. Actus reus, in other words, can denote liability for doing something. Majority of crimes believed to have two essential ingredients: “the mens rea” and the “actus reus”. In several criminal litigations, government attorney has to prove actus reus only and these litigations are branded as “strict liability offences.” The unlawful killing of another is an actus reus of murder offence. This constitutes the physical element of crime. However, prosecution in a murder case has to establish that defendant had the required state of mind (mens rea) in relation to the murder. (Herring, 2008:77).

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For instance, the actus reus of battery is nothing but exercising unlawful personal violence on another person and here prosecution has to demonstrate also that this was followed by the required mental element, either recklessness or an intention to do so.

For instance, the actus reus of rape is forceful sexual intercourse and due to an absence of consent by one party to the activity, it has become a criminal offence. (Mitchell & Dadhania 2003:223).

Actus Reus can be sub classified into further three groups namely –a) liability for doing something, b) liability for omissions c) liability for “state of affairs” cases. Under the above (a), for instance, the actus reus of battery is “exercising criminal violence on others, and it will be a positive act which is against the law if they are unleashed voluntarily and continuously. Under (b) of above, when a ‘responsibility to act ‘can be recognized and if there is a failure to retort, there can be an accountability for oversights. For instance, when a police man failed to maintain the peace as held in R v Dythum 1979. Duty emanating from the deliberate assumption of accountability for dependents or minors. (R v Globins and Proctor (1918)). Duty emanating from conception of an obvious danger. (R v Miller (1983). Duty emanating from a contractual requirement as regards to safety and health. (R v Pittwood (1902). Under (c) above, if a person forms the actus reus because of being of a specific status or being in a certain cluster of conditions. Actus reus created by being found as drunk on a highway (Wirzar v Chief Constable of Kent (1983)) and if a person found to be under the status of illegal immigrant. (R v Larsonneur (1983)). (Mitchell & Dadhania 2003:227).

Case 1

In this litigation, both Tyrone’s legs were seriously injured as Kirk had hit Tyrone grievously. Thus, Kirk has caused a “serious bodily injury” or serious harm as laid down in R v Saunders. This creates the chances of charges against Kirk under s.18 and s.20 of the offences Against the Person Act, 1861. Section 18 demands proof that Kirk caused serious bodily injury –but for the Kirk actions, Tyrone would not have suffered the harm.

The mens rea for s.18 is intent –though there is no clear definition as to what intent suggests in the context of s.18. (Herring, 2008:138).

In R v Wollin, it has been held that if the intention to do severe body wound is enough for murder, the intent must be the same under s.18 charge. (Glazebrook 2007:370).

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Alternatively, a charge under s20 Offences Against the Person Act could be brought as a substitute. Under s 20, the harm should be either severe body wound as like what Tyrone suffered or wounding. The injuries imply that Tyrone suffered a wound.

The mens rea under s20 is satisfied by substantiation that Kirk was malicious as laid down in R v Mowatt. (Molan & Douglas 2008:78).

Case 2

Action against Sally under s20 Offences Against the Persons Act could be initiated. Under s20, the injury required should be either wounding or serious body wound.

Since, Sally makes a blow at Molly and smashes Molly’s jaw and as the wounds implied that Molly has sustained a severe harm. Under this section, severe body wound must be inflicted and Sally’s injury would also satisfy the proof of causation as laid down in R v Burstow ( Finch 2001: 205)and in R v Ireland. (Mothersole & Ridley 2000: 246). Further, there is mens rea under s20 as Sally acted with malice.

Further , the mens rea for s.20 cannot be substantiated a charge under s.47 Offences Against the Person ACT 1861 as this could be sustained on the footage that Sally committed an assault and Sally’s punch has resulted in actual body harm to Molly.

It is to be observed that under s.47, Mens rea need not to present for Sally’s action as regards to actual physical wound, and she only needs to have the mens rea for the attack as held in “R v Savage and in R v Parmentor. “Here, mens rea is subjective recklessness or intention as held in the aforesaid case laws.

In both the above instances, no defence could be availed on the basis of intoxication as they could not form to have a necessary intent while during intoxication. According to the decision held in DPP v Majewski6, (Ashworth & Michal 2000: 135). the voluntary intoxication could form as a defence to crimes of precise intent but not crimes of basic intent. It is to be noted that section 18 of the “Offences Against the Person Act 1861” is an explicit objective crime since the mens rea travels beyond the actus reus.

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If Kirk is to be charged under s.18 and demonstrates that due to intoxication, his crime will be charged to the ‘lesser included’ offence of s.20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – a basic intent crime. Hence, if Kirk is charged under s.20 or s.47 or if charged with common battery or assault, he will not escape from the offences on the basis of self-induced intoxication since these are all basic intent crimes.

Further, Sally will have to be booked under section s47 as assault was made without any weapon and resulting in severe body wound. It is to be noted that mens rea for s.47 would be subjective recklessness or intention. Provided that Sally intended to assault Molly , it does not count that he might not have anticipated the actual body injury that actually transpired as held in R v Savage ; ( Molan 2008:275). R v Parmentor. (Molan & Douglas 2008:80).

List of References

Ashworth, A & Mitchell, B. (2000) Rethinking of English Homicide Law. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Finch, E. (2001) The Criminalisation of Stalking: Construction the Problem and Evaluating the. London: Routledge.

Glazebrook, P. Blackstone’s Statutes on Criminal Law 2007-2008. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Herring, J. (2008) Criminal Law: Texts, Cases and Materials. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Mitchell, A & Dadhania, M. (2003) AS Level Law. London: Rutledge –Cavendish.

Molan, M & Douglas, G. Criminal Law 2008 & 2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Molan, M.T. (2008) Cases and Materials Against the Person Act, 1861. London: Taylor &Francis.

Mothersole B & Ridley A. (2000) A-Level Law in Action. London: Cengage Learning.

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