The Actus is the physical element of a crime. It can be an act, or a failure to act (an omission), or a state of affairs. It is also known as the guilty act.
the conduct itself might be criminal. Eg. the conduct of lying under oath represents the actus reus of perjury. It does not matter that whether the lie is believed or if had any effect on the outcome of the case, the actus reus of the crime is complete upon the conduct. In other words, whatever you did was a crime regardless of the consequences of that action. For example, burglary is entering a premise with the intention to steal or cause GBH. It does not matter if you achieve that result. So burglary is also a conduct crime.
The actus reus may relate to the result of the act or omission of the defendant. The conduct itself may not be criminal, but the result of the conduct may be. Eg it is not a crime to throw a stone, but if it hits a person or smashes a window it could amount to a crime. Causation must be established in all result crimes. For example you can only be guilty of murder if the result of your action or ommission is death. So murder is also a result crime.
For state of affairs crimes the actus reus consists of 'being' rather than 'doing'. For example, being in a country illegally is a state of affairs crime.
In criminal law, you are normally only held liable for actions or omissions you have done voluntarily. In other words, the general rule is that if you did not have control over your actions you can not be liable. This is demonstrated in the case below.
R v Mitchel (1983)
FACTS: The appellant tried to jump the queue at a Post Office. An elderly man took issue with the appellant's behaviour and challenged him. The appellant hit the old man and pushed him. The eldery man fell back onto others in the queue including an elderly lady who fell and broke her leg. She later died.
HELD: The man who did the pushing could be held liable for the old lady's injuries because his conduct was voluntary. However, the man that was pushed and simply fell on top of her cannot be held liable because he did not do anything voluntarily. He hurt her only because he was pushed on top of her. He did not have any control over his action. So his action was involuntary and he cannot be liable. There is more to this case in a concept known as transfered malice. We will cover this in the Mens Rea section.
Also, the concept of involuntariness is tricky when it comes to intoxication.
In simple English omission means lack of action. If someone fails to act they have omitted to act. In other words, an omission is doing nothing.
Occasionally an omission can amount to the actus reus of a crime. The general rule regarding omissions is that there is no liability for a failure to act. This is because there is no Good Samaritan law in the UK. This general rule, however, is subject to exceptions when a duty of care can be found. Keep in mind that what we mean by 'duty of care in criminal law is very different from 'duty of care in civil law. The criminal law concept is much more limited and exists only in certain circumstances as follows.
Liability can exist if there is a contract that creates a duty of care. For example:
R v Pitwood (1902):
Facts: A railway crossing keeper failed to shut the gates of the crossing. A cart was crossing when it was hit by the train and a man was killed.
Veredict: Guilty because D had a contractual duty
Parents and close relatives are expected to do certain things to prevent harm to people for whom they are responsible.
Gibbins and Proctor (1918):
Facts: A child’s father and his mistress failed to feed their child so that she would die of starvation.
Verdict: The Farther was guilty as he had a duty to feed his child. The mistress was also guilty because she voluntarily undertook responsibility for the child (see next).
If someone voluntarily agrees to look after someone else, failure to do so could lead to criminal liability.
Stone and Dobinson (1977):
Facts: Stone’s elderly sister came to live with the defendants. She became ill and unable to care for herself and refused to eat. The defendants never called for help and she starved to death in her room.
Verdict: The brother was guilty due to the relationship and his wife was guilty of voluntarily undertaking responsibility and then failing to act.
People in positions of public trust like police officers may have a duty to act even when they are off-duty and therefore not contractually bound.
Facts: A police officer witnessed a violent attack on the victim just as he was finishing his shift. He took no steps to intervene or summon help Instead he drove away from the scene
Verdict: Guilty as he had a public duty to act.
If someone sets in motion a dangerous chain of events but then does nothing to stop the danger, they might also face criminal liability.
Facts: A squatter accidentally started a fire. When he realized this, he left the room and went to sleep in another room. He did not attempt to put out the fire nor summon help.
Verdict: Guilty because he set in motion a dangerous chain of events and did nothing to stop it.
When an act of parliament creates a duty of care, failure to do what the act says may be a criminal offence. For example, the
Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003
This act says that anyone who is responsible for a young woman has a duty to report female genital mutilation. Failure to report this is a crime. So, if a teacher or parent knows this is happening and do not report it to the police they can be found guilty of a crime for failing to act.