The meaning of fault on the basis for criminal liability

Fault exists through our legal system and can be defined as "the responsibility for doing something wrong". It can also refer to "a defect of failing" or "wrongdoing". Within our legal system, there are many elements of criminal law that demands liability to be proved depending upon fault i. e. the defendant to blame, and in contrast to this, there can also be liability proved not depending upon fault i. e. the defendant is not necessarily to blame. One issue is the causation in result crimes. This is where the defendant is usually liable if they actually cause the outcome. This then proves whether the defendant was at fault or not.

For example, in R V White, the son's act of putting the poison in his mother's drunk didn't kill her, but she actually died from a natural cause, therefore, this broke the chain of causation because he was not the factual cause of the outcome, thus resulting in him not being liable. In contrast to this, in R V Pagett, the defendant was proving to have caused the death of his girlfriend by using her as a human shield when openly firing at police, who then returned fire, thus killing the girlfriend. Therefore, but for Pagett using his girlfriend as a human shield, she would not have died.

In addition to this, if the chain of causation is broken by a third party or the victim themselves, then the defendant will be proven to not be liable. In R V Jordan, medical treatment did break the chain of causation due to the fact the defendant's actions were no longer the cause of the death due the fact the medical treatment was palpably wrong. However, in Cheshire, the chain or causation was not broken, despite the bad medical treatment due to the fact the defendant's actions were held to be of significant contribution to the death. However, causation alone isn't just needed to prove that the defendant caused the crime.

The defendant must possess the actus reus and mens rea of the crime they committed. The actus reus must be voluntary and the mens rea is generally required. With regards to the actus reus, the defendant must be in control of her/his actions. For example, in Hill V Baxter, the driver was attacked by a swarm of bees and crash. There was held to be no act due to the fact any action the driver committed after the attack of the swarm of bees were involuntary, therefore, he was not at fault thus, no liability. In respect of the mens rea, it needs to be proved that the defendant was either intending the crime, or was being subjectively reckless.

Althoguh, crimes are graduated according to level of fault so more mens rea is required for more serious offences. For section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861), this requires proof of intention to cause serious harm to prove that the defendant was at fault, whereas in section 20 of the OAPA (1861), this requires either intention or recklessness to cause some harm. In the case of R V Clarke, a shop-lifter blamed it on absentmindedness due to depression, showing that she lacked the sufficient mens rea for the crime. Nevertheless, these two elements aren't always needed for the victim to be at fault.

In crimes of Absolute liability the actus reus of the crime is not needed for the defendant to be guilty, and in crimes of Strict liability, the mens rea of the crime is not needed to prove that the defendant was to blame. In repscted of Absolute liability, the defendant can be convicted of this type of offence, even if they have no control over their conduct. For example in Winzar V Chief constable of Kent, the D was drunk in hospital, so the police escorted him out and they then arrested him for being drunk on the highway. Here, the police forced the defendant to do an involuntary act for which he was convicted for.

This arises the question of whether he was really at fault? Similarly, in Strict Liability offences, liability can be imposed without the D intending to be at fault. This tends to be regulartory offences dealing with matter of social concern. For example, in Alphacell V Woodward, the D polluted the environment without actually being aware of it. Surely doing something he wasn't aware of doesn't mean he was at fault? Full and partial defences are allowed to reduce the responsiblilty of the D's if they are not entirely blameworthy. The defendant may have committed the actus reus with appropriate mens rea, but can still not be at fault.

For example, using reasonable force to defend yourself or if victim consented harm. Courts have developed duress of circumstances, allowing defendants to escape liability when they face imminent death/serious injury if they did not commit a crime. In Abdul-Hussain (1999) Shiites escaping Iraw hijacked a plane, forcing it to land in the UK. The Court of Appeal allowed the defence of duress due to the fact the men were escaping death from Iraq. Similarly, partial defences for murder allow reduction to manslaughter i. e. diminished responsibility and provocation.

The defendant however, does not escape liability altogether. For example, in Byrne, the D strangled a woman and mutilated her body. Evidence showed he was a sexual psychopath with little control over his actions. It was decided he possessed an abnormality of mind which reduced the responsibility of his behaviour with the use of diminished responsibility. In respect of murder, this brings up the sentencing issue in respect of good motives. Sentencing generally has aggravating and mitigating factors that reflect different levels of fault of the D's, so this then affects the sentence pass.

For example, two offenders may have different backgrounds being sentenced for the same offence. Both receive different length of sentences. However, the mandatory life sentence is given to those that kill, therefore, the sentence of life is given to mercy killers and serial killers. A mercy kill is someone who kills for a different reason i. e. out of love. In R V Inglis (2011) a mother was given the mandatory life sentence for murdering her terminally ill son. This same sentence was also given to the serial killer Ian Huntley, who murdered two 10 year old girls, with no real proven reason behind it.

This brings up the question of whether Mrs Inglis was at fault and deserving of the punishment Ian Huntley received. However, concluding everything that has been discussed, one may question as to whether liability should depend upon fault? Some may argue yes, it is essential for the public, it proves that individuals are responsible for the consequences of their actions and it encourages businesses to be vigilant through deterrence. Other may counter argue no, as justice isn't given in some scenarios, and liability depending upon fault doesn't always give the best results.

In respect of the public interest, strict liability offences are good as they regulate business, such as in Smedleys V Breed where a caterpillar was found in a can of peas. The company couldn't argue that they took reasonable care to prevent this, because the House of Lords said strict liability meant no defence of reasonable care. This is a beneficial for the public in respect that they can claim for the damage they have suffered. However, this can also be seen as unbeneficial as well because if business's efforts to try their best it still seen as not good enough, why would they bother trying their best at all?

For example, in Callow V Tillstone (1900), a butcher got a vet to inspect his meat, but the vet was negligent and passed it. The Butcher was still convicted, even though he wasn't totally at fault. Will butchers bother having their meat inspected in future? For serious crime, mens rea and proof beyond reasonable doubt is required, so D's are protected. It is argued that strict liability usually exists for less serious crimes with minor punishments such as fines.

However, on the contrary, it has been argued that strict liability punishments don't actually consist of minor punishments – some have even led to imprisonment. For example, in R V Howells, the D thought the gun he bought was an antique so he thought he didn't need a license for it. However, it turned out he did, as a punishment, he was given 5 years imprisonment. Was he really at fault her to deserve the same sentence as section 20 of the OAPA? In relation to mens rea, if it is hard to prove the mens rea then conviction may be impossible (e. g. speeding).

Similarly, in vicarious liability, compensation may not be granted if the offending employee cannot be identified. However, alternative can c be an extension of the Res Ipsa Loquir rule or reversal of burden of proof in respect of strict liability. With regards to deterrence, one can say that it encouraged higher standards amongst businessness, as in Cundy V le Cocq where the D was convicted of selling alcohol to a drunken person, and it can also encourage shopkeepers to take more care, as in Harrow LBC V Shah, where a lottery ticket was sold to an under 16.

However, it can be argued does it really promote higher standards? Similar to the dispute against strict liability offences regulating businesses, instead of standards being higher, they might drop, due to the fact the D won't know what is good enough. As for shopkeepers, it can also be argued that shopkeepers can only take so much care. They cannot control their employees' actions all the time, and a mistake is bound to happen. In respect of individual liability, Vicarious liability can also be held to be unfair, as it puts fault upon the employer.

In many circumstances, the employer is in fact liabile for their employees actions due to the fact they are gaining profit from that employee and have a sufficient degree of control over them. However, this level of control can only go so far, similar to the point discussed in deterrence, how is it possible for the employer to regulate the employee's actions all the time? As in Rose V Plenty, where a milkman was explicitly forbidden to take a 13 year old with him to help him on his mil rounds, but he still did, and as a result, the child was injured through his negligence. Finally, whether justice is served can be taken into account.

Is it wrong to punish someone who is blameless or to impose liability on someone who has taken care to prevent the undesired outcome? Most would argue yes, due to the fact we all link fault to our idea of justice and fairness. Conviction of someone who is blameless spreads a lack of confidence in our legal system. People who are deprived of their freedom when they are guiltless is not making it a fair society such as in R V Storkwain, a pharmacist victim of fraud was convicted of supplying prescription drugs. Other things to take into consideration are the consequences of a blameless person being convicted.

That person would receive a barrier to employment due to the criminal record they receive, a sanction by the court, society's condemnation and a tarnished reputation. Is this really fair for someone that wasn't at fault? Similarly, the consequence on society is the fact that people who are convicted, cannot avoid re-offending no matter how much care or thought they apply. In conclusion, within the legal system today, it appears that there are many impositions of liaiblty without fault and it would be are to eradicate them, due to the pros and cons of the topic.