A more recent version of these Actus Reus Short notes – written by Oxford students – is available here.
The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Criminal Law Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:
AR PQ SCHEME NB: AR can be either a state of affairs (e.g. owning a gun) or the result of an action (e.g. murder).
1. Was there a voluntary act on the part of the defendant, that amounted to the Actus Reus of a criminal offence. Yes ---
? See below, need to consider whether there was a novus actus or other event that broke the chain of causation. No ---
? Broad rule is Deller : if D's actions do not amount to a criminal offence, no crime has been committed, even if D tried his best to commit a crime.
? Must also consider whether, in certain circumstances, D has committed a crime by omission (e.g. where he owed a duty of care to V).
2.a. If there was no clear act, did D commit a crime by omission?
Starting point: there is no general omissions liability in English law, only when D was under a duty to act. Line between acts and omissions: although the distinction between the two has a great deal of bearing at law, it is hard to distinguish them (question whether we should therefore place weight on the distinction).
? Bland : B is left braindead after Hillsborough. Question is whether doctors can terminate life-sustaining treatment. House of Lords say that turning off machines is an omission not an act. They say that any duty to act that had previously existed was vitiated by B's lack of consent and the lack of hope of recovery. "Absent a duty, the omission to perform what had previously been a duty will no longer be in breach of the criminal law."
??? ?Contrast Speck : child innocently touches a man's penis, man does nothing to move the hand. Case turns on act / omission distinction. Held to be an act. Cases show that the courts can use ambiguity here to reach 'right' moral conclusion. Problematic from RoL standpoint?
First question: was there a continuing act? Key example is Fagan: D drove onto a policeman's foot (without MR, by accident), but then left the car on the foot. The act (driving on the foot) was held to be continuing, so there was a coincidence of AR + MR.
Second question: was D under a duty to act? There are four categories here, but the first two are less important: (i) duties can be imposed by statute; (ii) duties of law enforcement.
? Contractual duty: Pittwood : operator of a gate over a train line did not shut the gate, a man was killed by the train as a result. D guilty of manslaughter.
Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Criminal Law Notes.