Actus Reus in Latin literally means a ‘guilty act'. It is an essential element of crime. Actus Reus means a voluntary physical action or an omission of duty backed by the guilty state of mind i.e mens rea, action arising out of an accident and trancelike state won’t count as actus reus.
When sufficient harm is done to the victim by the wrongdoer which is prohibited by the legislation, the law of the state provides a punishment or penalty or both for the commission of wrongful acts committed. Section 33 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines The word ‘act’ denotes as well as series of acts as a single act; the word ‘omission’ denotes as well a series of omissions as a single omission.
For an act committed or omitted to be a crime, it must be prohibited under some legislation. Or else it will not add up to a crime. For instance, A is driving a car and his vision is hindered as a newspaper gets stuck in his windshield and loses control of the car and he hits X. Here the actions of A are involuntary.
No Mens Rea without Actus Reus
A criminal offense is said to be committed when there is the presence of the combination of the guilty mind accompanied with wrongdoing i.e Actus Reus backed by Mens Rea. An action merely cannot amount to a crime if it is not intended with the guilty mind, similarly having a guilty mind will not amount to a crime, if having a guilty mind was considered to be a crime then we all would have been punished or put behind the bars multiple times to say the least. Because one cannot go through a person’s mind and evaluate the nature of malice.
Actus Reus is not essential under Strict Liability
Under the strict liability rule actus reus is not considered. Here the law makes people pay compensation for damages even when they have taken all the necessary and required precautions.
The victims will be compensated for the injuries which were caused to them. The rule of strict liability comes from a famous English case Rylands V Fletcher. Also the Indian Penal Code, 1860 have several sections were rule of strict liability is applied under Sec. 121 (waging war),Sec. 124 A (sedition),Secs. 359 and 363 (kidnapping and abduction), and Sec. 232 (counterfeiting coins), Sec.489 (A counterfeiting currency note or bank notes). A person involved in the circulation of counterfeit currency or knowingly performs any process of it, is held liable here the intention will not be taken into account. Kidnapping of minors or sale of alcohol to Minor on presumption of them being a major won’t be taken into consideration.
Rylands V. Fletcher
According to the facts of the case, the defendant who was a mill owner wanted to increase his water supply and constructed a reservoir on his land with the appointment of a competent and independent contractor.
While construction contractors found the shafts of an old mine on the land of the defendant which were loosely buried with soil and earth, the reservoir was constructed over it neglecting the fact the shafts were present. Once the reservoir was built it was filled with water and it resulted in bursting of the old shaft and the water was busted in the mine of the neighbor and flooded it. Rylands pleaded in court for compensation and the court and its judgment said when a person brings upon something on his property for his benefit, it should not escape and affect others, if it escapes then the owner has to compensate the victim. Even if the owner has been not negligent or he had taken preventive measures to avoid such mischief.
Exceptions to strict liability rule
1) Act of God:
An act of God is a sudden and unexpected force of nature which can’t be stopped even when one has taken utmost care and precautions to stop the damage. For example, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, thunderstorms etc. are a few acts of God which does not induce strict liability.
2) Interference of third party:
When damages are caused by a stranger i.e. a person who is not known to the defendant. Then the defendant is not liable to pay for compensation.
3) Plaintiff’s own mistake:
If the plaintiff suffers damages by interfering into the defendant’s property, then the defendant shall not be liable to compensate the victim.
In the courts of law the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
For an individual to be found guilty if the act committed or omitted by him was voluntary and had malice behind it, then the convict is punished by the aforesaid legislation. If the act or omission is found not guilty then the person would not be punished by the law and is acquitted. Actus Reus is needed for a person to be held liable for a crime without the presence of Actus Reus no crime is said to be executed.
This article is written by Mohammed Shoaib Sharfuddin Mulla of Rizvi Law College.