Actus Reus is a Latin phrase for a guilty act which refers to the action you need to do to commit an offense. According to Kenny, ‘Actus Reus is such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent’. The act done or omitted should have criminal liability, which must be prohibited by law. The Actus Reus is the physical facet of a crime. If there is no guilty act, there can be no crime and therefore no suit for damages can arise.
Generally, Actus Reus must be a voluntary or willful act like stealing a bracelet. On the contrary, an act that is involuntary is not covered under the guilty act. An example of an involuntary act is given in the case of Hill v. Baxter when someone loses control of a car because they are attacked by a swarm of bees, or because they have a heart attack.
The guilty acts come about because of the circumstances. This can mean that people are guilty of criminal offense just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though they had no control over their actions. In R v. Larsonneur,Larsonneur, a French woman who was no longer allowed to stay in England, went to Ireland. She was immediately sent back to England and handed over to the England police on arrival. She was charged with being ‘an alien’ without permission to be in England. She was founded guilty even though she had been sent to England by the Irish police.
Actus Reus includes not only act but also omission. The general rule is that there can be no liability for failing to act unless, at the time of failure to act, the Defendant was under a legal duty to take positive action. Such positive duty arises from the following circumstances-
The Duty Arises from Statute: In UK, there is a Statute namely Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, which provides omissions culpable by people over the age of 16,failing to look after a child under 16. It means that if a child is not provided with adequate food or clothes, is called the Actus Reus of the crime.
The Duty Arises from a Contract: A positive duty to act because of one’s obligation under a contract, if failed to perform, the contractual duty in question can form the basis of criminal liability. In R. v. Pittwood, a gatekeeper failed to close the railway gate on time. As a result, one person died and the other got injured. The court convicted the gatekeeper for manslaughter as he failed to carry out his contractual duty.
The Duty owed to family members: In R. v. Gibbsons and Proctor, the Court ruled that the accused and his wife were guilty of murder by failing to feed the accused’s daughter. As the woman hated the daughter, it was sufficient to make her liable for the crime.
Moral duty should be distinguished from the legal duty in the rule of Actus Reus.