For Criminal Liability, the actus reus and mens rea of the same offence must always coincide in point of time.

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Question: For Criminal Liability, the actus reus and mens rea of the same offence must always coincide in point of time.


Liability put simply in legal terms is defined as a “legal duty or obligation by law”. Liability, if bound by law, can in many ways be criminal, thus considered criminal liability. In order for criminal liability to exist in common law both mens rea and actus reus of a particular offence must coincide in point of time beyond reasonable doubt making that offence “absolute”.

There are several types of criminal liability which do require the coincidence of both actus reus and mens rea with exception to strict liability, this occurs if mens rea or negligence does not have to be proved in respect of one or more elements of the actus reus of an offence. If an offence is one of strict liability the prosecution must prove the actus reus was committed by the accused, this involves establishing that the accused’s conduct was voluntary. While an accused may not be found guilty of a strict liability offence where his conduct was involuntary, just as he/she could not be convicted of an offence requiring mens rea or negligence, he/she maybe convicted even though the prohibited consequence was caused inadvertently and in a totally blameless way, such as in “Callow v. Tillstone 1900 where a veterinary surgeon was charged with aiding and abetting the exposure for the sale by a butcher, of inedible meat. The surgeon performed an examination upon the carcass at the butcher’s request and certified it edible. However, the surgeon had performed the examination negligently meaning that the meat in the first place was completely inedible”. The butcher was convicted of the strict liability offence of exposing the meat for sale. The surgeon’s conviction however, was quashed, as he did no know the meat was inedible. For absolute liability to occur, the offence requires no mens rea and the defendant’s actus reus need not be voluntary, which only contemplates in the rarest of situations. An example of absolute liability exists in the case of Larsonneur 1933, where a French woman who was required to leave the United Kingdom did so by going to Eire where she was deported and handed to the police in the United Kingdom. She was convicted of “being an alien…found in the United Kingdom (without leave) “ and appealed on the basis that her return was caused by circumstances over which she had no control over. The case has been overly criticized since the defendant’s presence was involuntary. However, the cause of the prohibited state of affairs was apparently irrelevant thus the mens rea was considered void. A similar decision was reached in the case of  Winzar 1983,” where the defendant was found guilty of “being found drunk… on a highway having been put there by the police.”

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Actus reus is defined as an “essential element of a crime that must be proved to secure a conviction, as opposed to the mental state of the accused.” In most cases the actus reus will simply be an act, accompanied by specified circumstances. In certain cases the actus reus may simply be a state of affairs rather that an act. Each crime must be examined individually in order to determine what must be proved to establish its actus reus. Generally however, it is necessary to know which elements of the definition of an offence comprise the actus reus. The term ...

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