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Foundations of Criminal Law

Level 2 LLB LAW

Student ID: 33165044

                                                Year: 2006/07

Word count: 1486

        I certify that this is my own work. The work has not in whole or in part, been presented elsewhere for assessment. Where material has been used from other sources it has been properly acknowledgement. If this statement is untrue I acknowledged that I will have committed an assessment offence. I also certify that I have taken a copy of this assignment, which I will retain until after the Board of Examiners has published results and which I will make available on request.

In recent times the criminal law has been concerned with imposing liability for omissions. However, this was not the case in the past as the law was more concerned with the prohibition and punishment of positive acts (Card, 2004). ‘An act is the most common basis of the actus reus’ (ibid, p57). The actus reus of an offence is its conduct element. It ‘describes what the defendant must be proved to have done (or sometimes failed to do), in what circumstances, and with what consequences’ (Herring, 2006, p85).

Before proceeding further it is necessary to clarify what is meant by an omission. An omission is the failure to act which can sometimes give rise to criminal liability and this failure to act can constitute the actus reus of an offence (Herring, 2006). According to Herring (2006, p88), the criminal law on omissions states that ‘a defendant is guilty of a crime only when failing to act, where he or she is under a duty to act’. These acts and omissions can be placed under the ‘general rubric’ of ‘conduct’ (Fletcher, 1978).

To continue, the distinction between an omission and an act is unclear and it depends on the definition of the offence if criminal liability for an omission can be imposed (Card, 2004). The definition of the offence may require an act to be committed or state whether a person has a duty to act in a certain situation (ibid). The question of whether the omission or failure to act can be considered as the actus reus of an offence arises. Many law experts support the view that it is impossible to cause an event simply by not doing anything. On the other hand, several law experts oppose this view and as mentioned above the law in recent times attempts, sometimes successfully, to impose liability for omissions.

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The main aim of this paper is to outline the attempts of the courts to impose liability on omissions and at the same time to describe in what instances can liability be imposed. There have been a number of cases in recent years which ‘touch’ the area of law on omissions and will be explained further below.

Ashworth (2006), states that there are arguments against imposing liability for omissions arising from the principle of autonomy which means that a person is free to act as he wishes as long as he ‘does not harm or wrong others.’ However it ...

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A good essay on this common exam topic. 4 Stars.