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What Makes you Liable for a Criminal Offence?. Focus: OMISSIONS as actus reus. ALL pupils can OUTLINE how a person can be FOUND GUILTY of a criminal offence. Learning Objectives:. MOST pupils can EXPLAIN the meaning of OMISSIONS.

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learning objectives

What Makes you Liable for a Criminal Offence?


OMISSIONS as actusreus

ALL pupils can OUTLINE how a person can be FOUND GUILTY of a criminal offence

Learning Objectives:

MOST pupils can EXPLAIN the meaning of OMISSIONS

SOME pupils can APPLY cases to their EXPLANATION of the term OMISSIONS

If I don’t bother to stop her taking the scissors and she gets hurt, am I to blame?

omissions as actus r eus
Omissions as ActusReus

Stephen J (19thC) – “A sees B drowning and is able to save him by holding out his hand. A abstains from doing so in order that B may be drowned. A has committed no offence.”

  • Generally therefore, omission cannot make someone guilty of an offence.
  • The morality of this issue is something to be questioned though.
exceptions to the rule on omissions
Exceptions to the rule on omissions

In some cases a failure to act is seen as an ActusReus.

This is where there is a duty on the behalf of D to act.

  • Statutory duty
  • Contractual duty
  • Duty through a relationship
  • A duty which has been voluntarily undertaken
  • Duty through an official position
  • Duty through a chain of events
doctor s duty
Doctor’s Duty

AirdaleNHS Trust v Bland (1993)

  • Bland had been crushed at the Hillsborough disaster.
  • As a result he was severely brain damaged & in a persistent vegetative state.
  • Doctor’s asked for a ruling that could stop them feeding him.
  • Court ruled that doctors could even though this meant that Bland would die.
  • This was held to be in his best interests.

Discontinuing treatment of a patient is not an omission.

summoning assistance
Summoning Assistance

Khan and Khan (1998)

Ds supplied heroin to a new user who took it in their presence and then collapsed.

They left her alone and by the time they returned to the flat she had died.

  • The CoA in it’s obiter said that there could be a duty to summon medical assistance in certain circumstances.
  • So that a D could be liable for not doing so.

Explain using examples the meaning of the term actusreus(8 marks)


  • Define actusreus
  • Explain that the act must be voluntary, and refer to cases e.g. Hill v. Baxter (1958)
  • Explain there is no liability if there is no act
  • Explain that sometimes an omission is enough, use cases and explain how they are relevant

Due next lesson


‘Law should encourage citizens in their civic duty to do ‘the right thing’ and not to turn a blind eye to someone who is in need.’

Does the law relating to omissions reflect this view?