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Criminal Cases

Actus Reus

Hill v Baxter (1958)

Court gave examples where a driver of a vehicle could not be said to be to doing the act of driving voluntarily. These included where a driver lost control of his vehicle because he was stung by a swarm of bees, was struck on the head by a stone or had a heart attack while driving.

Larsonneur (1933)

The defendant had been ordered to leave the United Kingdom. She decided to go to Eire, but the Irish police deported her and took her back to the UK. She did not wish to go back and was certainly not doing this voluntarily. When she landed in the UK she was immediately arrested and charged with ‘being an alien to whom leave to land in the UK had been refused, was found in the UK’. She was convicted because she was an alien who had been refused leave to land and she was found in the UK. It did not matter that she had been brought back by the Irish police against her will.


Contractual Duty

Pitwood (1902)

A railway crossing keeper failed to shut the gates of the crossing before he went to lunch. A cart was crossing when it was hit by the train and a man was killed. The keeper was guilty of manslaughter as he had a contractual duty which he breached.

A Duty Because of a Relationship (usually parent and child)

Gibbins and Proctor (1918)

A child’s father and his mistress failed to feed the child, so that it died of starvation; they were guilty of murder.

A Duty Which Has Been Taken on Voluntarily

Stone and Dobinson (1977)

Stone’s elderly sister came to live with the defendants. She became ill and unable to care for herself. She died. The two defendants were convicted of manslaughter through failing to care for her or summons help when she became helpless.

A Duty Through one’s Official Position

Dytham (1979)

A police officer witnessed a violent attack on the victim, but took no steps to intervene or summon help; instead he drove away from the scene. The officer was guilty of wilfully and without reasonable excuse neglecting to perform his duty.

A Duty Which Arises Because The Defendant has set in Motion a Chain of Events

Miller (1983)

A squatter accidentally started a fire. When he realized this was he realised this he left the room and went to sleep in another room. He did not attempt to put out the fire or summon help. He was guilty of arson.

A Modern Case of Omission

DPP v Santana-Bermudez (2003)

In this case a police woman, before searching the defendant’s pockets, asked him if he had any needles or other sharp objects on him. This defendant said ‘no’, but when the police officer put her hands in his pockets she was injured by a needle which caused bleeding.  The Divisional Court held that the defendant’s failure to tell her about the needle could amount to the Actus Reus for the purposes of an assault causing actual bodily harm.


Factual Cause

Pagett (1983)

The defendant used his pregnant girlfriend as a shield while he shot at armed policemen. The police fired back and the girlfriend was killed. Pagett was convicted of her manslaughter. She would not have died ‘but for’ him using her as a shield in the shootout.

White (1910)

The defendant put cyanide in his mother’s drink intending to kill her. She died of a heart attack before she could drink it the defendant did not cause her death; he was not guilty of murder, though he was guilty of attempted murder.

Legal Causation

Blaue (1975)

A young woman was stabbed by the defendant. She was told she needed a blood transfusion to save his life but she refused to have one as she was a Jehovah’s Witness and her religion forbade blood transfusions. She died and the defendant was convicted of her murder. The fact that she was a Jehovah’s Witness made the wound fatal, but the defendant was still guilty because he had to take his victim as he found her.

Medical Treatment

Smith (1959)

Two soldiers had a fight and one was stabbed in the lung by the other. The victim was carried to a medical centre by other soldiers but was dropped on the way. At the medical centre the staff gave him artificial respiration by pressing on his chest. This made the injury worse and he died. The poor treatment probably affected his chances of recovery by as much as 75 per cent. However, the original attacker was still guilty of his murder.

Cheshire (1991)

The defendant shot the victim in the thigh and the stomach. The victim had problems breathing and was giving a tracheotomy (i.e. a tube was inserted in his throat to help him breathe). The victim died from rare complications of tracheotomy, which were not spotted by the doctors. By the time he died the original wounds were no longer life-threatening. The defendant was still held to be liable for his death.

Switching off a life support machine does not break the chain of causation. This was decided in Malcherek (1981).

Victim’s Own Act

Roberts (1971)

A girl jumped from a car in order to escape from sexual advances. The car was travelling at between 20 and 40 mph and the girl was injured through jumping from the car. The defendant was held to be liable for her injures.

Williams (1992)

A hitch-hiker jumped from Williams’ car and died from head injuries caused by his head hitting the road. The car was travelling at about 30 mph. The prosecution alleged that there had been an attempt to steal the victim’s wallet and that was the reason for his jumping from the car. The Court of Appeal said that the victim’s act had to be foreseeable and also had to be in proportion to the threat.

Mens Rea


Mohan (1975)

The court defined intention as a ‘a decision to bring about, in so far as it lies within the accused’s power [the prohibited consequence], no matter whether the accused desired that consequence of his act or not’. This makes it clear that the defendant’s motive or reason for doing the act is not relevant. The important point is that the defendant decided to bring about the prohibited consequence.

Foresight of Consequences

Wollin (1998)

In this case the defendant threw his three-month-old baby towards his pram which was against a wall some three or four feet away. The baby suffered head injuries and died. The court ruled that the consequence must be a virtual certainty and the defendant must realize this. Where the juries were satisfied on both these two points, then there was evidence on which the jury could find intention.


Cunningham (1957)

In Cunningham the defendant tore a gas meter from the wall of an empty house in order to steal the money in it. This caused gas to seep into the house next door, where a woman was affected by it. Cunningham was charged with an offence against section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 of maliciously administering a noxious think. It was held that he was not guilty since he did not realize the risk of gas escaping into the adjacent house. He had not intended to cause the harm, nor had he take a risk he knew about.

Transferred Malice

Latimer (1886)

The defendant aimed a blow with a belt at a man in a pub after that man had attacked him. The belt bounced off the man and struck a woman in the face. Latimer was guilty of an assault against the woman, although he had not meant to hit her.

Pembliton (1974)

The defendant threw a stone intending it to hit people with whom he had been fighting. The stone hit and broke a window. The intention to hit people could not be transferred to the window.

Coincidence of Actus Reus & Mens rea

Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1968)

Fagan was told by a police officer to park by a kerb. In doing this Fagan drove on to the policeman’s foot without realising he had done so.  Initially Fagan refused to move the car. The policeman pointed out what had happened and asked Fagan several times to move the car off his foot. Eventually Fagan did move the car.

The Court of Appeal held that once Fagan knew the car was on the police officer’s foot he had the required mens rea. As the actus (the car putting force on the foot) was still continuing the two elements were then present together.

Strict Liability

Larsonneur (1933)

The defendant had been ordered to leave the United Kingdom. She decided to go to Eire, but the Irish police deported her and took her back to the UK. She did not wish to go back, she had no mens rea. However due to the principle of Strict Liability, she was found guilty of not obeying the court’s orders.

Harrow London Borough Council v Shah (1999)

The defendants owned a newsagent’s business where lottery tickets were sold. They had told their staff not to sell tickets to anyone under 16 years old and had also put up notices in the shop stating this. They told their staff that if there was any doubt about a customer’s age, the staff should ask for proof of age, and if still in doubt should refer the matter to the defendants. One of their staff sold a lottery tickets to a 13-years-old boy without asking for proof of age. The salesman mistakenly believed the boy was over 16 years old.

The defendants were found guilty of selling a lottery ticket to a person under 16. The offence did not require any mens rea. The act of selling the ticket to someone who was actually under 16 was enough to make them guilty, even though they had done their best to prevent this happening in their shop.

Sweet v Parsley (1970)

In this case the defendant rented a farmhouse and let out to students. The police found cannabis at the farmhouse and the defendant was charged with ‘being concerned in the management of premises used for the purpose of smoking cannabis resin’. The defendant did not know that cannabis was being smoked there. It was decided that she was not guilty as the court presumed that the offence required mens rea.

B v DPP (2000)

In this case the defendant was charged with inciting a child under the age of 14 to commit an act of gross indecency. The defendant, who was a boy aged 15 had encouraged a girl whom he believed to be over 14 (but who was actually only 13) to have oral sex with him. The House of Lords confirmed the principle in Sweet v Parsley that there is a presumption that mens rea is required. The defendant was not guilty because it had to be proved that he knew the girl was under 14.


Actus Reus

Fear of Violence

Smith v Chief Constable of Woking (1983)

In this case the defendant entered a private garden at night and looked through the bedroom window of the victim. She was terrified and thought that he was about to enter the room. This was enough for an assault.

Words as an Assault

Ireland (1998)

In this case the defendant made several silent phone calls to three different women. The victim may fear that the purpose of the call is to find out if she is at home and that the caller is about to come to her home immediately after the call.

Tuberville v Savage (1669)

In this case a man put his hand on his sword and said, ‘If it were not assize-time, I would not take such language from you.’ Although the man had done an act which could have made the victim fear immediate violence, the words showed that no violence was going to be used. The level of force need not be serious. Fear of any unwanted touching is sufficient.


Actus Reus

Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1968)

In this case the defendant parked his car with one of the tyres on a police officer’s foot and left it there for several minutes.

Indirect Force

DPP v K (1990)

In this case the defendant put acid into a hot air hand drier to hide in a cloakroom which he stole from his science lab. The defendant planned to take it out after the lesson. Unfortunately, someone entered the cloakroom, tried to use the drier and was sprayed by the acid.

Haystead (2000)

In this case the defendant caused a child to fall to the floor by punching the person holding the child.


DPP v Santana Bermudez (2003)

In this case a police woman, before searching the defendant’s pockets, asked him if he had any needles or other sharp objects on him. The defendant failed to tell her he had a needle in his pocket. This failure made him guilty of an assault causing actual bodily harm.

Actual Bodily Harm

Actus Reus

T v DPP (2003)

It was held that loss of consciousness, even momentarily, was actual bodily harm. The victim was chased by the defendant. He fell to the ground and was kicked by the defendant. This caused him to lose consciousness for a brief period.

Mens rea

Roberts (1971)

A girl jumped from a car in order to escape from sexual advances. The car was travelling at between 20 and 40 mph and the girl was injured through jumping from the car. He was found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm even though he had not intended any injury or realised there was a risk of injury.

Savage (1991)

In this case a woman in a pub threw beer over another woman. In doing this the glass slipped from the defendant’s hand and the victim’s hand was cut by the glass. The defendant said that she had only intended her to be injured, nor had she realised that there was a risk of injury.  The court found that she was guilty of a section 47 offence (assault occasioning actual bodily harm). The fact that she intended to throw the beer over the other woman was sufficient for the mens rea of the offence.

Wounding and Grievous Bodily Harm

Burstow (1998)

In this case it was decided that ‘inflict’ does not require a technical assault or a battery.


JCC v Eisenhower (1983)

In this case the victim was hit in the eye by a shotgun pellet. This did not penetrate the eye but did cause severe bleeding under the surface. As there was no cut, it was held that this was not a wound.

Grievous Bodily Harm

Bollom (2003)

In this case the defendant had caused several severe bruises to a 17-month-old child. The Court of Appeal held that the victim’s age and health were relevant when deciding whether an injury amounted to grievous bodily harm. There had to be assessments of the effect of the harm to the particular victim. This ruling means that severe bruising may be grievous bodily harm where the victim is a young child or a frail elderly person.

Dica (2004)

In this case the defendant was charged with two offences of charged with two offences of causing grievous bodily harm under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. He had sexual intercourse with two women when he knew that he was HIV positive. Both women contracted HIV. It was accepted that this was grievous bodily harm.

Section 20 Offence

The defendant to foresee serious injury but he must realise the risk of some injury.

Parmenter (1991)

In this case the defendant injured his three-month-old baby when he threw the child in the air and caught him. Parmenter said that he often done this with slightly older children and did not realise that there risk of any injury. He was found not guilty of the section 20 offence but guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm under section 47.

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