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9.2 Parties to Crime

1.0 Introduction

In law the different roles that people can play in the commission of an offence can be broken down below.

2.0 The Principal Offender

The principal offender is the person who carries out the actus reus, or in lay terms, the main perpetrator of the offence.

3.0 Joint Principals

A joint principal contributes to the actus reus by committing their own independent act.

4.0 Innocent Agents

Two distinct situations where this arises.

  1. Where the agent lacks the mens rea for the offence
  2. Where the agent has a defence available to them

5.0 Secondary Parties

Secondary parties are more commonly described as accomplices or accessories to the crime. They are people who help or encourage the principal offender without themselves physically carrying out the actus reus.

Indictable offences

Section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.

Summary offences

Section 44 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980.

The effect of these provisions is that the person who aids or assist the principal offender in the commission of the offence will incur the same liability as the principal offender.

5.1 Actus Reus

  • An offence
  • Which is aided, abetted, counselled or procured
  • Causation

5.2 Mens Rea

Once it has been established that an act took place that could give rise to secondary party liability, the accompanying mens rea needs to be shown.

  • Knowledge that the actions and circumstances constituting a criminal offence existed
  • Knowledge that the acts undertaken were capable of encouraging of assisting

6.0 Joint Enterprise

Joint enterprise can be explained as a joint plan, where two or more people plan together to commit an offence and then go ahead and execute that plan together, committing the offence.

6.1 Joint enterprise between principals

This is the most conceptually straight forward scenario where two or more people jointly plan to commit a specific offence and then go ahead and commit the offence together.

6.2 Joint enterprise between principals and accomplices

This arises where a person aids and abets the commission of an offence by the principal offender where they share the same common purpose in intending the crime should be committed.

6.3 Parasitic accessorial liability

This is an area which used to arise where two or more people plan to commit one offence but one of them then goes beyond the plan and commits a separate offence.

6.4 Mens Rea

New developments in the law on joint enterprise

Traditionally the main significance of the finding of a joint enterprise was to lower the mens rea required by secondary parties where knowledge was not necessary, merely foresight thus making liability easier to impose.

The verdict in Jogee renders parasitic accessorial liability a redundant area of the law. This is due to the fact that liability in this area is based entirely on the defendant having foresight of something that might occur.

7.0 Charging and Sentencing

Secondary liability means that the offence will be charged and sentenced as if the defendant had carried out the offence themselves.


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