A person who genuinely attempts to commit a criminal offence and fails still deserves to be punished just as much as a person who succeeds in committing an offence

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A person who genuinely attempts to commit a criminal offence and fails still deserves to be punished just as much as a person who succeeds in committing an offence.

The offence of attempt is the closest we get in the English legal system to satisfying the statement in question; however it is still the case that many defendants escape punishment because they didn’t go far enough in attempting the crime, despite genuinely attempting to commit a criminal offence. In this essay I will analyse the existing law on attempts and conclude as to whether it is satisfactory.

Attempt is an inchoate offence and is covered by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. This act provides that “if with intent to commit an offence to which this section applies, a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence; he is guilty of attempting to commit the offence”. The criminal law does not punish people for just intending to commit an offence; intent is a mental quality that implies a purpose, whereas attempt implies an effort to carry that purpose or intent into execution. An attempt goes beyond preliminary planning and involves a move towards the commission of the crime. The question as to where the defendant has gone before a merely preparatory act is unclear and open to differences in opinion.  

One of the reasons for this offence is that without it, the police would often have to choose between preventing an offence being committed and prosecuting the offender. However, as illustrated in cases such as Campbell this is still not always the case. In Campbell the defendant planned to rob a post office but was prevented from doing so because of a tip off to the police. He was carrying an imitation gun and a threatening note which he had planned to pass onto the cashier at the post office, however he was not convicted as the court did not see his actions to be more than preparatory. Although the police still have the power to lawfully arrest a defendant such as Campbell because they have reasonable grounds to believe that they are about to commit an arrestable offence, it appears that in order to secure a conviction they would have to wait until the person has actually entered the building and approached the counter. It is my opinion that this is ridiculous especially when public safety is concerned; clearly this was the case in Campbell. The dangers of this are seen in the case of R v Geddes where the defendant had been seen by a teacher in the boy’s toilets of a school, equipped with items to aid in the kidnapping of a child. Although convicted on his first trial, his appeal was allowed as there was no evidence of the actus reus of the offence and his actions had not been more than preparatory given that he had not made contact with any pupil. It is my opinion that Geddes was a very dangerous man and the potential damage he would have done had he succeeded would have been devastating to the victim. He had all of the mens rea to go through with his crime and in my opinion deserved to be punished just as much as if he had completed the offence.

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In many cases the defendant has tried very hard to complete the offence and has only failed because of impossibility, carelessness or the interference of the police. One such example is R v Shivpuri where the defendant was paid to act as a drugs courier. On collecting a package of what he believed was either heroin or cannabis, the defendant was arrested by the police, the contents were later found not to be drugs but a harmless vegetable substance. He was convicted of an attempt and his appeal upheld, which in my opinion was the right decision. The acts were ...

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