3.2 Criminal law


Additional information

The rules of criminal law

Rules and principles concerning general elements of criminal liability and liability for offences against the person, property offences and attempt.

Theory in criminal law

Harm as the basis for criminalising conduct.

Autonomy, fault and individual responsibility.

Principles in formulating rules of criminal law:

  • fair labelling
  • correspondence
  • maximum certainty
  • no retrospective liability.

General elements of liability

Actus reus:

  • conduct; acts and omissions and state of affairs
  • voluntariness and involuntariness
  • causation
  • consequences.

Additional fault elements:

  • mens rea; intention and subjective recklessness
  • negligence
  • transferred malice.

No fault: strict liability.

Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea.

Fatal offences against the person

Common law offence of murder:

voluntary manslaughter:

  • loss of control (s54 Coroners and Justice Act 2009)
  • diminished responsibility (s2 Homicide Act 1957 as amended).

Common law offence of involuntary manslaughter:

  • unlawful act manslaughter
  • gross negligence manslaughter.

Non-fatal offences against the person

Common assault:

  • assault
  • battery.

Offences Against the Person Act 1861:

  • s47 assault/battery occasioning actual bodily harm
  • s20 unlawful and malicious wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm
  • s18 unlawful and malicious wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Property offences

Theft (s1 Theft Act 1968).

Robbery (s8 Theft Act 1968).

Preliminary offence

Attempt (s1 Criminal Attempts Act 1981).


Capacity defences

  • Insanity.
  • Automatism.
  • Intoxication.


Necessity defences

  • Self-defence/prevention of crime.
  • Duress.
  • Duress of circumstances.