Criminal Law

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2

The elements of an offence

Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 General analysis of criminal offences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Limitations on the value of the Latin terms actus reus and mens rea . . . . 14 Proof of the ingredients of an offence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 Lawful excuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 Reflect and review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

page 12

University of London International Programmes

Introduction
This chapter considers, in general terms, the elements of an offence which the prosecution must establish, beyond reasonable doubt, before a person can be convicted. Before you go any further please listen to audio presentation 2 which you can access from the criminal law page of the VLE. It is important that you do so as it will give you an overview of the topic and guidance on the terms considered in this chapter (i.e. actus reus and mens rea). You will now be aware that every offence is defined somewhere – either in a statute or at common law – and will be composed of a number of elements with which you should be familiar. Note that you should be equally familiar with the elements of each defence you consider as part of this course. The elements of an offence are the external elements (actus reus) and the internal – or mental – elements of the offence (mens rea) which are contained in the definition of that offence (which will be found either at common law or in a statute). The offence of criminal damage contrary to s.1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 is used to exemplify analysis of the actus reus and the mens rea of a criminal offence. Chapters 3 to 6 examine the general principles of actus reus and mens rea in more detail.

Essential reading and listening


Wilson, Chapter 4: ‘Actus reus’, Sections 4.1–4.4 and Chapter 6: ‘Mens rea’, Sections

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