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Actus Reus & Omissions

In order for somebody to be liable for a crime, there needs to be a number of tests put forward to ensure a defendant is liable for a crime.

Actus Reus

This is the ‘act’ part of a crime, or somebody’s ‘failure to act’ (an omission).

An omission can include a common law duty, a contractual duty  [R v Pittwood] Pittwood was a railroad crossing operator whom forgot to close the gates. A man was killed at the crossing and it was held that he was liable due to a contractual duty of care. (1902) TLR 37, relationship based duties [R v Gibbins and Proctor] A wife failed to feed her husband's 7 year old child because she did not like her. The child died and it was held she was liable because of the 'obvious' close relationship even though there was no biological relationship. (1918) CCA, assumption of a duty of care [Stone and Dobinson] Stone's very sick sister moved in with them, and the couple attempted to feed and look after her. The couple were themselves of fairly low intelligence and so eventually the sister died of malnutrition. It was held that because the two had already attempted to help their sick sister, the had assumed responsibility. (1977) 1 QB 354 and dangerous situation [R v Miller] A squatter fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. The cigarette set fire to a mattress. When he awoke and saw what he had done, he moved out of the house. It was held Miller was liable by way of an omission because he had created a dangerous situation. (1982) UKHL 6.

The circumstance element looks at the surrounding facts of the case. E.g. Whether there was a duty to act.

Result crimes, such as murder, also require an additional test, to ensure the result of the crime is directly attributable to the defendant. These tests are called causation.

Factual Causation – The ‘but for’ test. I.e. ‘but for’ the defendants actions, the result would not have occured.
Legal Causation – The defendants actions must be a sufficient and blameworthy cause. While it does not need to be the sole cause, it must be a more than minimal cause (de minimis).
There must also be no break in the chain of causation. For example, a naturally occurring event, the intervention of a third party, bad medical treatment or the victim’s own actions – which lead to the defendants actions becoming a less that minimal cause of the crime. The ‘thin skull rule’ also states that you must take your defendant as you find them, this includes any of the victim’s characteristics regardless of whether the defendant was aware of them or not [R v Blaue] Blaue hit a woman on the head. The wound was not immediately serious, but required surgery. The defendant refused to have surgery because of her religious beliefs condeming a blood transfussion and she died as a result. It was held that the defendant was still liable. (1975) 61 Cr App R 271.

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