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IPC 1860 General Principals Of Criminal Liability: Actus Reus And Mens Rea

What is Criminal Liability?


  • Not Defined in IPC
  • An act of commission or omission, contrary to law for which punishment can be inflicted through judicial proceedings conducted in the name of the state.
  • Easy: Whatever is declared by the legislature as a crime

Criminal Liability

Responsibility for criminal behavior.

Essentials to Constitute a Crime

  • Mens Rea (mental aspect)
  • Actus Reus (Physical aspect)

Actus Reus

  • Latin For 'Guilty Act' also referred to as the 'voluntary act'.
  • "actus me invito factus non est mens actus" - An act done by me against my will is not my act at all
  • Actus reus is the physical component of the crime. It includes acts contrary to the law.
  • The human conduct may consist of commission or omission of certain acts.
  • (Section-32 of the IPC: the term 'act' includes illegal omission also.)
  • The term 'act' includes a single act as well as a series of acts, and the term 'omission' includes a single omission as well as a series of omissions (Section-33 of IPC)

Mens Rea (State of mind Forbidden by law)

  • Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea - The act itself is not criminal unless accompanied by a guilty mind.
  • Loose term which includes a wide variety of mental states and conditions.


Highest Degree of Mens Rea. There is always the presence of knowledge with the presence of Intention.


Second Highest Degree of Mens Rea. Knowledge attracts lesser culpability if there is an absence of Intention.


Recklessness signifies a state of being mentally indifferent to an obvious risk. Higher degree than negligence because there is a certain risk for which the individual decides to remain indifferent.


When there is required a certain degree of due care or caution and the individual lacks in the aspect of care and precaution, it is termed to be behaving negligently. Case Laws on Men Rea
  • Nathulal vs. State of M.P. (AIR 1966 SC 43):
    In this case, the accused/a food grain dealer applied for a licence and deposited the requisite licence fee. He, without knowledge of rejection of his application, purchased food grains and sent returns to the Licencing Authority, who on checking, found that it was in excess of the quantity permitted by Section 7 of MP Food Grains Dealers Licensing Order, 1958. The accused was prosecuted. However, he was acquitted on the ground that he had no guilty mind.
  • Malhan K.A. vs. Kora Bibi Kutti (1996 SCC 281):
    The accused was a financier. He seized a vehicle for which he financed but did not receive the instalments. The person from whom the vehicle was seized complained to Police alleging that the accused had stolen his vehicle.

    The Supreme Court held that the element of mens rea is totally wanting in this case and the accused cannot be convicted for the offence of theft under Section 379.
Motive and Intention
Motive prompts a man to form an Intention.
(Motive relates to ends)
A thief has a MOTIVE to get money so he forms an INTENTION to Steal

(Intention relates to means)
Why Motive is important? If direct evidence is there then it is not important, BUT when only circumstantial evidence is there motive plays important role to establish intention. Presence of motive supports the prosecution case but the absence of motive doesn't weaken it.

Mens Rea when not required
(ignorantia juris non excusat - Ignorance of law is no excuse) - M.H George vs. State of Maharashtra (1965)
  • Public Nuisance: Cases, which are not criminal in nature, but are prohibited in the interest of the public at large.
  • Strict Liability offences: Rylands vs Fletcher (1868)
  • Absolute Liability offences AoGX: M.C Mehta Vs. Union of India (1987)
  • Under IPC:
    1. Waging war - Sec. 121
    2. Sedition - Section 124A
    3. Kidnapping - Sec. 359
    4. Abduction - Section 363
    5. Counterfeiting Coins - Section 232

Each and every offence under IPC has its ingredients mentioned not only in regard to what the accused must have done but also the state of his mind.

Theft must be committed dishonestly

Cheating must be committed fraudulently

Murder must be committed either intentionally or knowingly
So the IPC is self sufficient and there is no room for applicability of the general doctrine of mens rea.

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