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(p. 21) 2. Actus reus 

(p. 21) 2. Actus reus
(p. 21) 2. Actus reus

Nicola Monaghan

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date: 25 February 2020

Without assuming prior legal knowledge, books in the Directions series introduce and guide readers through key points of law and legal debate. Questions, diagrams, and exercises help readers to engage fully with each subject and check their understanding as they progress. This chapter discusses the actus reus elements of a criminal offence. The actus reus of an offence may involve an act or omission (conduct crimes); certain consequences being caused (result crimes); or, the existence of surrounding circumstances (‘state of affairs’ crimes). The actus reus of an offence must be voluntarily performed. The general rule is that there is no liability for an omission to act. There are five exceptions to this: special relationship; voluntary assumption of responsibility; supervening fault; contractual duty or public office; and statutory duty. Causation is an actus reus element: where the defendant is charged with a ‘result’ crime, the prosecution must prove that he caused the result in order to establish the actus reus of the offence. If there is a novus actus interveniens, the chain of causation will be broken and the actus reus will not be established. The types of intervening event which might break the chain of causation are: an unforeseeable escape; a voluntary act by the victim; a voluntary act by a third party; negligent medical treatment which was ‘so independent of the defendant’s act’ and ‘so potent in causing death’ that the contribution made by the defendant was rendered insignificant; and, a natural event which was not reasonably foreseeable.

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