Criminal law is a set of rules and regulations that prohibits conduct that is
harmful or endangers the safety and welfare of the public and prescribes
punishment for such conduct. Criminal law is different from civil law because it
focuses more on dispute resolution rather than punishment.
The term criminal law
mainly refers to substantive criminal law. Basic criminal law defines offenses
and prescribes punishment. Instead, Criminal Procedure describes the enforcement
of criminal law. For example, a law prohibiting murder is a substantive criminal
law. The state's method of enforcing this important law through the collection
of evidence and litigation is generally considered procedural law.
Early civilizations generally did not distinguish between civil and criminal
law. The first written law code was created by the Sumerians between 2100 and
2050 BC. Another important early code is the Code of Hammurabi, which formed the
core of Babylonian law. These early legal codes did not distinguish between
criminal law and civil law. Only fragments of the first criminal law of ancient
Greece survived. It was Solon and Draco.
After the restoration of Roman law in
the 12th century, the Roman classification and jurisprudence of the sixth
century provided the basis for distinguishing between criminal and civil law in
European law. The first sign of the modern distinction between criminal and
civil matters appeared when the Normans invaded England.
At least in Europe, the
concept of criminal punishment, the theological concept of God's punishment (poena
aeterna) inflicted only on the guilty mind, was first codified and finally
secularized at the end of Spanish scholasticism. Criminal law. The development
of the judicial state began in the 18th century when European countries began to
provide police services. In this sense, the criminal law formalized the
enforcement mechanism that is allowed to develop as a transparent law
Crime is a moral crime committed against society as a whole. It disturbs the
peace, and some criminal acts may cause widespread panic and disrupt the normal
activities of the community. The burden of prosecuting crimes rests with the
State and the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.
The state acts to
protect victims of crime and deter perpetrators from committing further crimes,
and acts to bring justice to victims. States also take steps to punish
perpetrators, and most countries have prisoner reform programs in place to
transform perpetrators into law-abiding and conscientious citizens.
Animals cannot commit crimes; therefore, an integral part of any crime is that
it must be committed by a human. However, crimes against animals can happen and
are punishable by law. Mens rea and criminal conduct are two fundamental
principles of any crime and are regarded as principles in most common law
Mens rea is an essential part of deciding whether an act is culpable or not.
Mens rea means "guilty spirit" or mens rea, intent to harm another person or
animal or express intent to disturb the peace. Actus Reus, however, is the
"guilty conduct" required to prove a criminal offence.
There are certain
principles that must be followed in dealing with any crime, and trust is given
to the accused when in doubt. The onus is on prosecutors to prove their guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of the defense is to provide reasonable
doubt to a judge or jury because the principles of justice dictate that a person
cannot be convicted unless the alleged charge cannot be proved beyond reasonable
Mens rea indicates the defendant's specific intent to commit the criminal act of
which he is charged. It must be shown that the defendant committed the crime
knowingly, knew what he was doing, and had bad intentions toward the victim.
If a person drives while intoxicated and involuntarily causes harm to another
person, they are still guilty because drinking before driving was their
voluntary choice, even if the crime itself was unintentional. However, if an
otherwise healthy person involuntarily causes harm to another person by having a
heart attack while driving, they are not liable and do not commit a crime.
The underlying principle of the doctrine of mens rea is that an act does not
make an individual guilty unless the mind is also guilty, which is expressed in
the Latin maxim 'actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea'. The mere commission of
a criminal act (or bringing about the state of affairs that the law provides
against) is not enough to constitute crime, at any rate in the case of more
The element of wrongful intent is required to constitute
criminal liability. In the common term, intention means purpose or desire to
bring about a contemplated result or foresight that certain consequences will
follow from the conduct of the person. Lord Kenyon in Fowler v. Padget stated it
is the principle of natural justice that the intent and act must concur to
constitute the crime.
R v Smith  2 QB 35
The defendant, who was a soldier, had a fight in an army barracks and stabbed
another soldier. The injured soldier was taken to the hospital but was dropped
two times on the way. When he arrived, the treatment provided was incorrect. The
medics did not recognize that his lung was punctured. The soldier died as a
result. The defendant was found guilty of murder and appealed, arguing that the
victim would have survived with proper medical care.
The court held the
conviction as the stab wound was the operative cause of death. Therefore,
inadequate medical care does not disrupt the causal link when the initial injury
is still a considerable factor at the time of death. Only if a secondary cause
is so dominant that it makes the original injury just a background factor can it
be claimed that the first act did not cause the death.
Actus Reus is the physical aspect of crime. The defendant must have done or
failed to do something that caused harm to the plaintiff or the victim in a
civil case. If there is no criminal act, no criminal offense can be constituted
and no suit for damages will arise. However, the act itself does not constitute
a crime. When the intention of the actor and the act itself are prohibited, they
together constitute a crime and accidentally striking someone attempting to
unsafely cross the road.
carrying a knife into someone's house with the express intention of
committing the act of murder, or driving a car on a foggy night). Furthermore,
the act can be voluntary or involuntary, and guilt depends on the facts of the
In some cases, the circumstances of the case are also taken into account and
often help conclusively prove guilt or prove a reasonable doubt of intent.
Actus Reus can also be a failure to act, i.e. a failure to take an action that
the defendant knew he was obliged to take (Example: - A mother deliberately
fails to feed her daughter, resulting in the death of the child.) A mother can
be charged with manslaughter, but she could also be charged with murder if her
intent to murder the child could be proven in court.
Actus Reus includes all external circumstances and consequences specified in the
rule of law as constituting the forbidden situation. The requirement of actus
Reus with reference to place, fact, time, person, consent, the state of mind,
possession or preparation; varies depending on the definition of the crime. The
requirements of actus Reus varies depending on the definition of the crime.
Actus Reus mat be with reference to the following:
- Place: In the offence of criminal trespass, house breaking or in the aggravated forms thereof, the actus Reus is in respect of place.
- Time: In the offences of lurking house trespass or house breaking by night in order to commit an offence or after preparation for hurt, assault, or wrongful restraint, the actus reus is in respect of both place and time.
- Person: In offences of kidnapping and abduction, procuring of a minor girl, etc., the Actus Reus is in respect of the person.
- Consent: In the offence of rape, consent is the Actus Reus.
- V. state of Mind of the Victim: In offences relating to religion or where rape is committed when consent has been obtained by putting the victim in fear of death or of hurt, the Actus Reus is with reference to the state of mind of the victim.
Under Indian law, children under the age of seven are considered innocent and
cannot be convicted of any crime. Children under the age of 18 cannot be tried
like adults and can only be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison.
In some cases, there are no-fault liability clauses where mens rigor does not
come into play. Examples include cases of statutory rape and the sale of alcohol
or tobacco to minors. Whether or not the defendant thinks his actions are legal,
he commits the crime. In this case, Actus Reus alone was sufficient to establish
guilt and obtain a conviction by the competent court.
Some crimes require a deeper mens rea, such as theft. Crimes such as theft
involve the specific intent to deprive the rightful owner of full use of stolen
property and enjoyment of his or her personal property, with no intention of
returning said property to its rightful owner. However, in the event of a theft,
the item does not necessarily have to be removed from the victim's property.
The Act Must Be Voluntary
Act means a conscious or willed movement and it is a conduct, which results from
the operation of the will. According to Austin, any movement of the body, which
is not consequence of the determination of the will, is not a voluntary act. A
voluntary act only amounts to an offence. If a person is compelled by force of
circumstances to perform an act, forbidden by law, he cannot be said to do it
voluntary, and therefore, he will not be held liable for the consequences of
that act. This situation is known as automatism in which an act on the part of
the accused is involuntary where it is beyond his control or beyond the control
of his mind.
Sections 32 and 33 of the IPC define the term 'act'. Section 32 provides that in
every part of the Code (except where a contrary intention appears from the
context), words, which refer to 'acts done extend to illegal omissions'. Section
33 provides that the word 'act' includes 'a series of act' and the word
'omission' denotes 'a series of omissions as a single omission'. A combined
effect of sections 32 and 33 is that the term 'act' takes into its fold one or
more acts; or more illegal omissions. The IPC makes omissions punishable,
provided that they are illegal and have caused, intended to cause, or like to
cause, like acts and an actus Reus.
An act of omission attracts criminal liability only when a person is placed
under duty to act recognized by the criminal law and he, with the requisite
blameworthy mind, failed to fulfill it. Such legal duties to act might arise out
of relationship or contracts, or might be imposed by statues. Section 39 of the
IPC defines the term voluntary as the instance where the person is said to cause
an effect ''voluntarily'' when he causes it by means whereby he intended to
cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or
had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.
The term 'voluntarily' as defined in this section shows that a person need not
intend to cause the actual effect caused, in order to be held to have
voluntarily caused such an effect. If the effect is the probable consequence of
the act done by him, then he is said to have caused it voluntarily. Thus, it
makes no distinction between cases in which a person causes an effect designedly
and cases in which he causes it knowingly or having reason to believe that he is
likely to cause it.
Further, if a particular effect could have been avoided by due exercise of
reasonable care and caution, then the effect of such negligent act is also said
to have been voluntarily caused. The question whether the effect of a particular
act was caused voluntarily, is a question of fact to be determined on the basis
of the facts and circumstances of each case. Some of the factors that may be
taken into consideration are the nature of injury caused, the weapon used, force
used and the part of the victim' body affected.
In Om Prakash v State of Punjab
, the Supreme Court was called upon to
adjudge the propriety of conviction of the husband for attempting to kill his
wife by deliberately failing to give her food. The accused, whose relations with
his wife were strained, deliberately and systematically starved his wife and
denied her food for a number of days. With the help of his relatives, he also
prevented her from leaving the house. Owing to continuous undernourishment and
starvation, she was reduced to a mere skeleton. However, one day she managed to
escape from the house as her husband forgot to lock her room before leaving the
She got herself admitted to a hospital, where she was found seriously ill by the
doctor and the police was informed. The wife recovered after a prolonged
treatment and blood transfusion. The police registered a case against the
husband under section 307 of IPC . The session's court convicted the husband for
the offence under section 307 of the IPC.
The conviction was also confirmed by the High Court, while observing that the
food was intentionally withheld to shorten the remaining span of her life
because it can be derived from the facts that by withholding food to her, death
would have resulted surely though gradually.
The Supreme Court appreciated the High Court's reasoning that law does not
require an intention to cause death then and there and confirmed the conviction
of Om Prakash on the ground of his illegal omission. Section 36 of the Indian
Penal Code stipulates that where an act or an omission constitute an offence,
the committing of the offence partly by an act and partly by an omission, would
also constitute the same offence.
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Shreyash Gupta
Authentication No: NV367325159400-3-1123