Actus Reus and Mens Rea

Authors Avatar

Actus Reus and Mens Rea

To be convicted of any crime under English law, two elements need to be proved, the actus reus and the mens rea.  The actus reus for any crime is different, the actus reus is most commonly known as the ‘guilty act’ or the ‘state of affairs’, while the mens rea constitutes the ‘state of mind’ of the accused.

The mens rea of a crime may be present, but if the actus reus is absent, no conviction can be made.  It will have to be determined in the present case whether both the actus reus and mens rea can be proved, in order to identify and judge, David and Alex’s actions.

From the details given, it is necessary to decide whether Alex was responsible for her actions or was it due to non-insane automatism.  As regards David, the issue of self-defence has to be considered, but also the actions of the medical staff and whether they could have been responsible for Alex’s death, rather than David.

The actus reus includes…the absence of ant ground of justification or excuse, whether such justification or excuse be stated in any statute, creating the crime or implied by the courts in accordance with general principle…”

Williams’s definition of actus reus seems to encapsulate the meaning of the principle.  It suggests that a person has carried out a crime if they have committed the act and have no recognisable defence and therefore must be convicted.  In Alex’s case there may well be the defence of non-insane automatism, that an external factor, which was beyond her control, resulted in her actions and so she would have had an excuse.

As for David, if it was proved that there was no actus reus his actions, would be a justification and therefore his actions could be classed as self-defence.

There can be no crime without actus reus and therefore when building a case against the convicted all aspects of actus reus and its defences have to be examined.  For example in Alex’s case, the actus reus would have been ‘to assault, with the intent of causing grievous bodily harm’, if she did not have the defence of non-insane automatism.

Justice requires that only those who have broken the law by an action, which was the outcome of their free choice, should be regarded as criminally responsible.  The defence of ‘automatism’ assumes that the accused has no responsibility for his actions”.

Alex was stung several times by a bee, which resulted in her losing control of her reflexes.  Under English law you can either be found ‘not guilty’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ in relation to automatism.

Join now!

Alex’s actions were not due to insanity because it was not a ‘disease of the mind’, but external factors beyond her control.  External causes include “concussion, the administration of an anaesthetic or other drug or hypnosis”.

Lord Denning stated clearly in Bratty –v- Attorney General for Northern Ireland,

The requirement that it should be a voluntary act is essential, not only in a murder case, but in every criminal case.  No act in punishable if it is done involuntarily: and an involuntary act in this context…means an act which is done by the muscles without the control of the mind, ...

This is a preview of the whole essay