Monday, 2 April 2012

A is for Actus Reus.

Apologies for the fact that this post is a day late, I have had a busy schedule but I will be participating in this challenge hopefully every day from now on :) I will try to make them all as law-related as I possibly can, however in the circumstance that I can't think of a law-related topic or word for the letter, I shall have to pick something random.

Some general info - the basis for imposing liability in criminal law is that the defendant must be proved to have committed a guilty act with the requisite 'guilty mind'.
This essentially breaks down into 2 elements. The physical elements are known as the 'actus reus' (guilty act) and the accompanied mental element is known as 'mens rea' (guilty mind).
The standard of proof to be reached in criminal law is that it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution is under a duty to prove both of these elements of the offence to the judge/jury. If the elements cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt, then the defendant will be acquitted (not guilty).

So firstly, what is 'actus reus'?
Actus reus is the Latin term for 'guilty act'. It is the physical element of committing a crime. It can be a positive act, or an omission (failure to act), and it must be a voluntary act which causes the damage/harm. It can also be a state of affairs, but I am not going to get side-tracked into elaborating today, maybe on my 'S' day.

So a voluntary act means that basically it has to be 'free-willed' - there are many reasons as to why it could be involuntary:

  • Automatism. This is generally where the defendant performs a physical act, but he is either not in control of his actions or he is not aware of what he is doing due to some external factor.
  • Physical force - if the conduct is physically forced by somebody else there will be no actus reus. E.g. if your best friend takes your arm and punches someone using it, you won't be guilty, although I'd recommend looking into getting a new best friend.
I am going to move onto omissions and causation and then conclude, as this is becoming quite lengthy.

SO, as covered above, omissions are a failure to act, and the general rule is that there is no liability for a failure to act, unless at the time of the failure to act, the defendant was under a legal duty to take positive action.
These legal duties arise from:
  • Statutes
  • Contract 
  • Public duty
  • Voluntary assumption of responsibility/reliance 
  • duty due to defendants prior conduct (e.g. if you set a house on fire, do yourself a favour and put it out or at least try to!)
Causation is basically the concept which states that in order for the defendant to be guilty of an offence, he must have caused the consequence (damage/harm). (I shall explain this on day C probably)

If I didn't bore you to death, then congratulations, lesson 1 of law is over. Time to find a B post!

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