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Exploration Of English Criminal Law Essay

2755 words - 11 pages

The British legal system convicts or acquits criminals based primarily
on two principles - actus reas (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty
mind). In order for an unlawful situation to arise, both these
conditions must be present. The actus reas of a crime deals with the
circumstances and consequence of the crime whilst the mens rea is
considering the state of mind of the person committing the crime. A
hypothetical situation would be one of D intending to kill X and
subsequently carrying this out - D would have both the actus reas and
the mens rea and could be trialled.

However, what the British system does not generally consider is the
act of doing nothing. If, in the above situation, X had been left for
dead and a passer-by saw him dying by the road side, the passer-by
would be under no obligation to give assistance. Clearly, there is
already an argument that giving aid would be morally sound behaviour,
but legally, there is generally no requirement to act. This state of
affairs occurs because the legal system wishes to balance the human
right of the individual to do as they please with the responsibility
they face to society. Parliament and the Courts decide what is 'right'
and when we, as a society, should act. However, as society is made up
of such a variety of personality and culture, this is no easy task,
and rules that exist in other countries do not exist here. For
example, it is generally agreed that parents have a legal obligation
to look after their children, but it is not legally challengeable to
sit and do nothing whilst your neighbour's house burns down.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule which both prove and
challenge it - six in total. These consider situations where a person
has a 'duty to act' - where the defendant had a duty of care to the
victim. In these situations, the defendant need not have committed the
act which killed the victim but rather, failed to act in a way that
could have prevented the crime or the consequent death. These six
omissions are listed below in list form, and then explained
afterwards.

i. duty to act through special relationship

ii. duty to act when holding public office

iii. duty to act arising from contractual obligation

iv. duty imposed by statute

v. duty due to defendant's prior conduct

vi. duty under assumed responsibility

i. Duty to act through special relationship:

In common law, it is agreed that some relationships create duties of
care - for example, a parent must ensure their child's safety and
health. A married partner has a duty of care towards their spouse. R v
Downes (1875) illustrated this point - a father put his faith in
prayer over calling a doctor to aid his sick child, who consequently
died. More recently, R v Smith (1979) saw a man fail to call for an
ambulance despite the...

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