What is Mens Rea and Actus Reus?

Does every wrong in the society come under the definition of Crime? The answer is no. Not every wrong is a crime. To prove a crime, there are so many things that need to be considered.  One of the most important things is Actus Reus and Mens Rea. Actus Reus means guilty action and Mens Rea means guilty intention. If a person does something wrong in society or does something of criminal nature, a lawyer needs to prove that person’s Actus Reus and Mens Rea in court. If any of these two things are missing then that person won’t be considered guilty. It is not always the same. There are few exceptions to this but in maximum cases, both of these two things need to be proved.  In this blog, we will talk about Actus Reus and Mens Rea.

Actus Reus and Mens Rea

Both the term is very old and is based on the Latin Maxim, “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit reawhich means an act does not make the actor guilty unless his mind is guilty too.

In short, actus reus means guilty action and mens rea means guilty intention. To understand these two terms properly, let’s see an example:

Suppose, a woman was beating a man with a broom. Due to grievous hurt, that man died. In this case, the court will see two scenarios. First, whether that woman had any guilty intention and whether the action was wrong or not. Now, hitting with a broom is of course wrong and death due to beating is wrong as well. So, here we can say that Actus Reus is present.

But to understand this scenario clearly, let’s assume that man was abducting a child. To save that child, that woman beat that man. Here, that woman didn’t have any bad intention. In this case, the act done by the woman won’t be called as Crime, or that woman won’t be called a criminal.

So, in order to call a person criminal or to call an activity as crime, the first thing to look upon is whether the act done by that particular person is wrong and second, with full intention the act was done.

If Mens Rea is present and Actus reus is absent, will that be called as Crime?

If only mens rea is present and actus reus is absent then it won’t be called as a crime. Action is very important to be called as crime. Until and unless there is any guilty action, there won’t be any crime.

Mens Rea when not required

As we already said, there exception to the general rule. Here are the cases, where mens rea in not required

  1. Ignorance of Law: Ignorance of law is no excuse. It won’t a defense that a person didn’t know about a law and that’s why he did it.
  2. Public Nuisance: Public nuisance is another ground where mens rea is not required.
  3. Public Interest: Cases which are not criminal in nature but are prohibited in the interest of public at large. For example: Company and consumer relation. A company’s intention is not to provide bad service to consumer but to good services. Where a company supplies defective pieces then it is company’s liability.
  4. Strict Liability Offence: In case of strict liability, mens rea won’t be required as it was established in the case Rylands vs Fletcher (1868)

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