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Understanding Criminal Liability Exploring Causes Effects and Key Elements

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  • Published On: 22-11-2023


The analysis of crime has always been done by understanding the cause and effect of an action which has been the centre point for academicians, scholars, legislatures, judiciary etc. The criminal liability arises when an individual act beyond its duty to provide care for a fellow being and has two most important elements: Actus Reus Mens Rea The first element includes the expressed conduct of a person which is unlawful and the second element focusses on the guilty intent the offender has which enforces them to act upon that intention, leading to the expressed action. However, in the given instance two criminal offences arise; Firstly, the death of Topper and secondly, the death of Maria.

Sinead's criminal liability against Topper

Sinead had considerable malice against his co-worker Maria and therefore had intended to harm her by placing itching power in front of Maria's door directly. At this point, Sinead does have a guilty intent to hurt Maria which comprises of the "Mens rea" or "Malice intent", but this set up made by Sinead fell back on her as his colleague Topper who was already allergic went in through that door and the itching powder fell on him. At this point, it was unknown that topper had an undiagnosed allergy issue which aggravated the effect of itching powder. Due care was taken and he was rushed to the hospital to get treatment. The Doctor in charge of treating him was poorly treated which could have possibly brought the allergy under control but Topper wasn't given proper treatment therefore he dies. From this instance, several issues appear.


Sinead's intention to Hurt Topper

  1. All Answers ltd, 'Actus Reus Lecture' (, December 2020) accessed 11 December 2020
  2. Sinead had no intention to hurt Topper as he was merely a receiver of the act intended for Maria, but does that relieve Sinead from any criminal liability of the death of Topper, could be a relevant question. Relying on the case of R v. Mitcher, there was a minor dispute concerning the queue of a post office. An individual tried to cut in the line but was refrained from doing so by the people in the queue. An elderly man particularly was seen to be dissatisfied with the behaviour and protested but the appellant lost control and pushed the old man. This led to a chain of fall in the queue, leading to the breaking of a leg of an old man. Not only that, this aggravated the situation and finally, the old woman was dead. In this case, the court had held that the Appellant is guilty of 'Manslaughter'. The individual, in this case, had no direct connection with the death of the old lady, neither did he have mens rea but his expressed intent and action to push the old man held him guilty following the doctrine of the transfer of malice. The doctrine of transferred Malice This term was first recognized in the case of R v. Latimer, wherein the core principle suggested that a person is liable for committing an offence that was intended to harm one person but results in harming another. This does not relieve the offender from any crime instead holds him guilty provided; The individual has attempted to commit the offence and full harm has been committed. Sinead's malice got transferred to Topper and resulted in his death, therefore this doctrine strictly applies. Even though in the case of R v. Pembliton, it was held that this doctrine shall apply in case of the commission of the same harm but here Topper was subjected to hurt that Sinead first intended to hurt Maria in this case. Secondly, the question of Constructive Manslaughter arises in this sense.

    Constructive Manslaughter

  3. R v. Mitcher 1983
  4. v. Latimer (1886) 17 QBD 35
  5. Dr Newhouse, University of Surrey,(2019/2020) " Constructive Manslaughter and Transferred Malice"
  6. R v Pembliton (1874) LR 2 CCR 119.
  7. In the case of R v. Creamer, transferred malice leads up to involuntary manslaughter when a person has a guilty intention to commit an unlawful act but instead of just harming the person, the act results in the death of another person, which was not foreseen. The crime was first identified as 'Manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous Act" and constructive manslaughter was discussed in the place.. Constructive manslaughter arises when the offender had no premonition that the seriousness of the act committed but his expressed action results in the death of another person who was not intended to be hurt, in that case, the onus of the crime is on the offender since he constructed the death from committing the act which could otherwise be trivial.

    Sinead's intention to hurt Maria

    Sinead's first intention was to hurt Maria by attacking her with itching powder, which could have been a trivial hurt and would not have escalated the way it has. The death of Topper affected Sinead and therefore his intention aggravated and he had a premeditated idea to kill Maria. To bring that to effect, she drives past her house intending to throw petrol bombs through her window even though she isn't confident about her abilities to make the right throw, she does the same and to her very surprise, Maria's house does get hit by the petrol bomb and she dies as a result. In this scenario, two issues arise.

    Sinead is aware of her poor throwing abilities yet she takes the risk to attempt, having a full knowledge that if the throw is not placed correctly, any other unintended individual is at the risk of being harmed or killed for a matter of fact. This confirms the liability that Sinead was well prepared and aware of.

    Secondly, Sinead does have the elements of Murder; Mens Rea, the mental intent to kill Maria and set out to do the same with the help of the petrol bombs and the second element being the expressed act to that effect wherein she attempts and prepares to make the throw and eventually she is successful resulting to the death of Murder.

  8. R v Creamer [1966] 1 QB 72 at 81, 49 Cr App R 368 at 378, CCA
  9. Wilson, L.C., 2009. Beatty, JF, and the Law of Manslaughter. Alta. L. Rev., 47, p.651.
  10. Elements that make Murder

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    According to the old definition of Sir Edward coke certain elements of Murder were set out; firstly, the existence of an unlawful act of killing is a must that determines the actus reus of the crime. Sinead's action had the first element. Secondly, the existence of a reasonable creature meaning any reasonable person excluding unborn fetus. Thirdly, the act must be done by a person under the "Queen's peace" or if the individual belongs to the subject of the Queen, must be eligible for criminal liability against Murder. Thirdly, there needs to exist a malicious aforethought which means a premeditated malicious plan or intent to cause grievous bodily harm that may result in death which also qualified by Sinead's crime. Therefore, this action calls for life sentence as decided in the case of R v Howeas decided by Lord Halisham.



    R v. Mitcher 1983 R v. Latimer (1886) 17 QBD 359 R v Pembliton (1874) LR 2 CCR 119. R v Creamer [1966] 1 QB 72 at 81, 49 Cr App R 368 at 378, CCA R v Howe [1987] AC 417 R v Poulton(1832) 5 C & P 329

    Journals / Articles

    All Answers ltd, 'Actus Reus Lecture' (, December 2020) accessed 11 December 2020
  11. R v Poulton(1832) 5 C & P 329
  12. Section 9 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  13. Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965, s 1(1)).
  14. R v Howe [1987] AC 417
  15. Essays, UK. (November 2018). Murder Lecture. Retrieved from
Dr. Newhouse, University of Surrey,(2019/2020) " Constructive Manslaughter and Transferred Malice" Wilson, L.C., 2009. Beatty, JF, and the Law of Manslaughter. Alta. L. Rev., 47, p.651. Essays, UK. (November 2018). Murder Lecture. Retrieved from


Section 9 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 Section 1(1) of Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965,
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