Actus reus is the physical element of the crime ‘guilty act’ . In order for the defendant to be held liable the act or omissions must be voluntary on the part of the defendant. This was established in Hill v Baxter (1958) Where the driver did not commit the offence voluntarily and was attacked by a swarm of bees when driving therefore the act was not done voluntarily. This shows that criminal law is concerned with fault on the part of the defendant and a positive and voluntary act is required as part of proving the actus reus.
A omission is a failure to act, the general rule is that an omission can not make a person guilty of an offence except in the six situations where there is a ‘duty to act’. The six ways in which a duty to act can exist are A statutory duty, A contractual duty, A duty because of a relationship, A duty which has been taken on voluntarily, A duty through one’s official position and a duty which arises because the defendant has set in motion a chain of events.
A statutory duty is when an act of parliament can create liability for an omission, examples of Acts include S1 of the children and young persons act 1933, this section of the act gives a duty to parents to make them legally responsible for providing care for their children which includes providing food, clothing and medical aid. If a parent fails to do any of this they will be held liable for the offence.
A contractual duty was established in Pitwood (1902) Where a railway crossing keeper failed to do the act and therefore was held liable of manslaughter, A contractual duty is when the individual has a duty because of a contract and this can be with the employer. A duty because of a relationship is usually when a parent owes a duty to care for a child, it can also be the other way round where the grown up child is caring for elderly parents.
An example of a case is Gibbins and Proctor (1918) where the father if a 7 year old child and his partner failed to care for the child which resulted in the child starving to death. Both the father and his partner were held liable for failing to feed her and caring for her. A duty which has been taken on voluntarily is when a person volunteers to take care of someone, a case which supports this is Stone and Dobinson (1977) Where Stones eldrly sister who was incapable of caring for herself came to live with stone and dobinson.