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Criminal Law: A Crucial Evaluation of Murder

09th October 2011
By Amie Erickson in Legal
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Murder isn't provided for in any statute in England or Wales, with its definition emanating from case law. The definition of murder will be counteracted into 2 components, mens rea and actus reus. This transient article can target these two elements of murder. Firstly, a temporary insight into the two ideas can be needed. This can equip the reader with the relevant understanding for the a lot of crucial half of this text, that being the evolution of those two concepts. Lastly, this text can concentrate on the future of the definition of murder, that specialize in proposals for a a lot of applicable definition of the crime of murder.

Actus Reus and Mens rea

The concept of actus reus focuses on the act of all criminal offences, not just murder. As stated in the introduction, the actus reus of common law offences can be provided by the case law. The act itself can not constitute an offence. There should be a mental part to a crime; this can be known as mens rea. An example of this might be simply falling over a dog and kicking a dog. While the act can be the identical, and indeed the result, it's the intention that changes the circumstances into a criminal offence.

The concept of mens rea refers back to the mental part of any crime. This definition will amendment from crime to crime. The most contributory to most crimes can be that of intention per the example above. If these 2 components exist, then a criminal offence will have been committed.

Evolution of the two ideas

The first definition of the actus reus for murder was offer by Coke as 'unlawfully killing a reasonable person who is in being and beneath the kings peace'. This definition emanated from the 17th century and was not equipped to house medical advances the followed the inception of this definition.

The foremost problematic limb of this 2 part definition is mens rea. Most of the literature that has addressed this space has targeted on the definition of intention, and a lot of importantly, the foresight of a person accused of such a crime. An example of this is able to be the classical illustration given in most text books. Here someone needs to magnify a plane. The accused contends that that was his solely aim, his only intention. However, the plane is stuffed with folks on board; if the plane explodes then the individuals on board can be killed. A persons' foresight of their actions, thus, plays a crucial role. The case law on the area of mens rea has been intensive, with a definition finally being settled upon during a House of Lords case. (It is not within the scope of this temporary article to explore the world absolutely, although the citation for this case is R v Woolin 1996).

Proposals for the Future

The Law Commission has proposed a definition for the mens rea element, though this has not been followed up. A additional recent proposal has been put forward by the Nathan Committee, although this solely slightly alters the law at this moment, although the concerns a additional purposeful definition that is provided by statute looks a lot of distant than ever.


As has been shown by this transient article, the offence of common law murder is an extremely difficult area. The initial parts are based mostly in Latin and have there foundations within the 17th century. The evolution of those 2 ideas has been slow and cumbersome; resulting in accusations that the only reason for this can be that the subject is simply too emotive. Although the definition is now additional settled, this space is crying out for a definition provided for by statute just like that provided for within the United States.

Amie Erickson has been writing articles online for nearly 2 years now. Not only does this author specialize in Criminal Law, you can also check out her latest website about:
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