2.2.1 Mens Rea – Introduction

Welcome to the second topic in this module guide – Mens Rea! ‘Mens rea’ can be loosely translated as ‘guilty mind’, and it is a vital component when attempting to assess the criminal liability of an individual.

The concept of mens rea was developed when judges began to realise that an act alone could not in fact create criminal liability, unless accompanied with a defendant’s guilty state of mind.

Today, in addition to meeting all of the actus reus elements of an offence, a defendant must be shown to have also have a guilty mind at the same time that they commit the actus reus of an offence.

For the vast majority of offences, the mens rea will be satisfied if the defendant can be shown to have intended their actions or can be considered to have been reckless as to whether a consequence would occur or circumstances would exist, following their conduct. However, in certain circumstances a defendant will satisfy mens rea if they are considered to have acted negligently and, for certain offences, known as offences of strict liability, no mens rea at all is required. Upon committing the actus reus the defendant will be found guilty.

Below are some goals and objectives for you to refer to after learning this section.

Goals for this section:

  • To understand the concept of mens rea.
  • To be able to identify under what circumstances a defendant will be found to have intention and when it will be found that they were simply recklessness in their conduct.
  • To understand the importance of the mens rea to an offence in law.

Objectives for this section:

  • To appreciate the difference between indirect/oblique intent and ulterior, basic and specific intent.
  • To be able to identify the standard of care a defendant must have failed to reach in order to be found to be requisitely negligent.
  • To be able to comprehend the difference between objective recklessness and subjective recklessness.
  • To appreciate the reasoning behind strict liability offences and how they differ from negligence.

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