CaseSnappy Blog

Crunching Concepts: Decoding the Key Principles of Actus Reus

14 June 2023 | CaseSnappy Team

A wooden gavel on a neutral grey background, symbolizing justice and law.


Welcome back to our "Crunching Concepts" series, where we aim to clarify essential legal concepts using simplified summaries generated by CaseSnappy. In this instalment, we delve into the crucial concept of actus reus, a fundamental element in criminal law that helps determine whether a defendant can be held legally responsible for a criminal offence.

What is Actus Reus?

Actus reus, which is Latin for 'guilty act,' refers to the physical element of a criminal offence. Under English law, actus reus encompasses the wrongful act or omission constituting the external elements of a crime. To qualify as actus reus, the act must be voluntary and either cause or contribute to the criminal harm defined by the offence.

Why is Actus Reus Important?

The concept of actus reus plays a pivotal role in criminal law for several reasons:

1. Actus reus serves as the foundation for determining criminal liability, differentiating wrongful conduct from mere thoughts or intentions that, on their own, are insufficient grounds for prosecution.

2. By establishing actus reus, the legal system ensures that the defendant is held responsible for the criminal act itself, rather than just the harmful consequences of the act.

3. Without proving actus reus, a defendant cannot be found guilty of a criminal offence. It must be proven in conjunction with the mental element (mens rea) to satisfy the requirements of a crime.

Highlighting Actus Reus Through Example Cases

Understanding actus reus is best exemplified through relevant case law:

R v White (1910) - This case demonstrated that both actus reus and mens rea must coincide. The defendant placed poison in his mother's drink intending to kill her, but she died of a heart attack before consuming the poison. As a result, the defendant was acquitted of murder, since the actus reus was not present.

R v Miller (1983) - This case involved an act of omission and a continuing act. The defendant's failure to extinguish a fire that he accidentally started constituted actus reus. The court ruled that his omission to act created a duty, and his breach of that duty established actus reus.

CaseSnappy: Your Legal Toolkit

Grasping the fundamental principles of actus reus and its importance in determining criminal liability is critical for legal professionals and anyone seeking to better comprehend the criminal justice system. CaseSnappy provides the tools necessary to break down complex legal concepts into manageable summaries, ensuring you have essential information at your fingertips.

Looking to expand your legal knowledge? Sign up for CaseSnappy for free and generate summaries of crucial legal concepts instantly. Keep an eye out for the next instalment in our "Crunching Concepts" series!

Get started
By using CaseSnappy, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.