Tuesday 7 February 2012

Good legal article on Mental Element Of Crime (Mensrea)

One of the main characteristic of our legal system is that the individual's liability to punishment for crimes depends, among other things, on certain mental conditions. The liability of conviction of an individual depends not only on his having done some outward acts which the law forbids, but on his having done them in a certain frame of mind or with a certain will.

Mens rea means a mental state, in which a person deliberately violates a law. Thus mens rea means intention to do the prohibited act

These are known as mental elements in criminal liability. Therefore an act in order to be a crime must be committed with a guilty mind,

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, is a well know principle of natural justice meaning no person could be punished in a proceeding of criminal nature unless it can be shown that he had a guilty mind.

In justice concept, actus Reus represents the physical aspect of crime and mens rea the mental aspect, which must be criminal and co-operate with the former. Actus reus has been defined as such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent. Mens rea which is a technical term generally taken to mean some blameworthy mental condition or mind at fault, covers a wide range of mental states and conditions the existence of which would give a criminal hue to actus reus. No act is per se criminal; it becomes criminal only when the actor does it with guilty mind.

Development of Mens Rea

in the earliest time it was the fundamental presumption that a man in every case intended to do what he has done. The English criminal law began with strict criminal liability, and there was no clear distinction between the Tort and crime.

Therefore the mental attitude of a person was an irrelevant consideration in so far as trial and punishment was concerned.

But later on bodily punishment came as a substitute of the payment of damages. It was then the importance of mens rea or the mental attitude of a person, at the time of commission of crime was realized. With the passage of time requirement of mens rea as an essential element of a crime has firmly taken in its roots.

Mans rea in its root

Now it is the combination of act ( actus rea) and intent mens rea which makes a crime. And the maxim – Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea means act alone does not make a man guilty unless his intentions were so. Is a well know principle of natural justice.

There can be no crime large or small without any evil intent. The responsibility in crimes must depend on the doing of a willed or voluntary act and a particular intent behind that act. Most conscious and voluntary acts are directed towards a particular result or consequence. When one acts to produce a particular consequence he is said to do that act with that intention.

Exceptions to mens rea.

Crime = Voluntary + foresight of the consequences-

Act done under compulsion.

If the consequence not looked for the act may be voluntary but not intentional. For any criminal liability there must be a voluntary act, this preposition drive from the maxim-

Actus me invite factus non est mens actus which means and act done by me against my will is not my act. This maxim support the doctrine of Mens Rea- for no person can be held liable for an act done under fear or compulsion.

For example:

A holds B and compels him at gun point to open the lock of C's house. Here B's act not a willed or intentional act.

The basic requirement of the principle of Mens Rea is that accused must have been aware of all those elements in his act which make it the crime with which he charged.

Commission of Offence

Offence against state, police, nuisance, and stick liability etc mens rea is not requiring.

Application of Mens Rea in Indian Penal Code

Technically the application of mens rea is not applied to the offences under IPC. Every office is very clear under IPC 1860. The definition not only states what accused might have done, that also states about the state of his mind with regard to the act when he was doing it. Each definition of the offence is complete In itself. The word Mens Rea are not use anywhere in IPC. However the equivalent words to those of mens rea in the IPC code very frequently such expressions are – Dishonestly (S24),Fraudulently (s.25), reason to believe (s.26),voluntarily (s.39).

Moreover Chapter IV of IPC General exceptions (s.76 to s.106) is provided the circumstances when options of criminal intent may be presumed.

Case Reference

1. Sankaran Sukumaran V/s Krishnan Saraswathi (1984 Cr Lj 317) SC held that
Mens rea is an essential ingredient of the offence under section 494 (bigamy), where the second marriage has been entered in a bona fide belief that the first marriage was not subsisting, no office under this section committed.

2. C. Veerudu V/s State of Andhra Pradesh (1989 CRLJ 52 (AP) Sc held that
u/s 498 (A) cruelty means "willful conduct''. Willful conduct includes mens rea.

3. Banvarila Agarwal v/s Surya Narayan (1994 Crlj 370) SC held that.
The intention of the accused must be dishonest and there must be mens rea.

Conclusion: in modern statutory offenses the maxim has no longer applicable and the statutes are to be regarded as themselves prescribing the mental element which is pre-requisite to a conviction. So mens rea is an essential element of crime, in every penal statue unless the same either expressly or by necessary implication is ruled out by the statues.

Act to be voluntary:

Act means a conscious or willed movement. It is a conduct, which results from the operation of the will . According to Austin any movement of the body, which is not in consequence of the determination of the will is not a voluntary act. It is only a voluntary act that amounts to an offence.


A fire at a wild animal but his fire missed and hit B who is behind the bush and B dies.

Here A would not be liable because he has no intention to kill B, but on the other hand if A know B is there behind the bush then he will be liable.

Intention + Act + Result = Crime

Crime = Vulnerary + foresight of the consequences.


1. Actus Reus- An Act which is prohibited by Law. It is the physical part of a crime.
2. Mens Rea- Mental element in crime. Intention. mens rea means a mental state, in which a person deliberately violates a law. Thus mens rea means intention to do the prohibited act. In Allrd v. Selfridge, it was held,.
intention to do an act which is made penal by statute or by common law.


Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea '- '

An act does not make a person legally liable unless the mind is legally blameworthy'.

Offence against state, police, nuisance, and stick liability etc mens rea is not require.
Source : Articlebase.com
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