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Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea

"Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea" the conception of this Latin maxim is established to distinguish between intended and unintended acts so that the multiple of punishment can be decided appropriately.

In a simple way any incident is not considered a crime if two things are absent first is "Actus Reus" and second is "Mens Rea" which means, wrongful act and wrongful intention respectively.

It describes the act or omission itself does not make anyone guilty unless done with a guilty mind.

Therefore, the conviction against the crime needs the evidence of a criminal act and intent.

Origin & Development;
  • Basically, this maxim has been developed from common law courses and it was borrowed from moral theology by "Lord Edward Coke'' and applied to common law crimes, since then it has been informally applied in common law crimes. It was taken from English Law and added by modification made under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • The maxim "Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea" is a Latin Maxim derived from "Doctrine of Mens Rea". It was first introduced in the 17th century.
  • This maxim obstructs the conflict that a crime can only be said to be initiated where the action was done in accordance with a guilty intention.
  • It's constituted from two legal terms: "Actus Reus" (wrongful act) + (wrongful intention) "Mens Rea" = Crime (wrongful act committed with wrongful intention).
  • In other words, it means "an act does not make a man guilty if their intention is not found guilty".

Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea is an element of mens rea which states about an act where the two main elements of crime were missing, that is actus reus means guilty of act and mens rea means guilty state of mind not considered as a crime.

The act alone does not amount to guilt of criminal liabilities, it must be constituted along with a guilty mind.

But there are certain exceptions to this rule and the reasons for this is that the legislature, under certain situations and circumstances, in its perception may think it so essential, in order to prevent a particular act from being initiated, to forbid or rule out the element of mens rea as a constituent part of a crime or of adequate proof of intention or actual knowledge.

The rule is not absolute and its limitations expressed in the Latin maxim, actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea.

To make a person criminally liable it must be proved that an act or omission, which is forbidden by law and it has been caused by his conduct. That conduct was accompanied by a legally responsible for wrongdoing and deserving of censure or blame attitude of mind.

Thus, there are two essential elements of every crime, a physical element and a mental element, accordingly called actus reus and mens rea.

There are certain Grounds considered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860:
  • Unsound Mind,
  • Act doing in a Good Faith,
  • The act was done as under Private defense,
  • The act done should be Unintentional,
  • Where an act is not against the moral laws,
  • Involuntarily intoxicated,
  • In case of Minor,
  • Bound by their occupation,
  • Mistaken by facts, Etc.
The act where absence of guilty intention justified under the circumstances.

  • Where the concept of this maxim is not applicable;
  • The act considered as a moral wrong;
  • The act which is legally wrong;
  • Ignorance of law;
  • Lack of knowledge.

Some cases which state whether it is applicable or not?
R Vs. Prince, 1875:
  • In this case the Henry Prince was convicted for taking possession of a 16 years old unmarried girl without permission of her father.
  • Whereas the girl named Annie Phillips, was actually 14 years old.
  • This is an offence punishable under section 55 of the Offence Against the Person Act, 1961 relevant statute law, regarding minors.
  • The defendant argued that he had made a reasonable mistake about Phillip's age.
  • But at the end of his excuse for the crime, he was ultimately convicted.
  • There is absence of wrongful intention but the act considered as a moral wrong is also an offence.
R Vs. Towson 1889:
  • Mr. Tolson married in September 1880.
  • In December 1881 Mr. Tolson went missing. Mrs. Tolson was told that her husband had been on a ship that was lost at sea.
  • Six years after that incident she eventually believes her husband to be dead.
  • She married another one who was ready to marry after knowing the whole reality.
  • After 11 months her husband turned up.
  • Later on her first husband charge against her second marriage she was committed an offence under the offence of bigamy.
  • She was taken to the defence of the mistake as it was reasonable in the circumstances to believe that her husband was dead.
Critical Analysis;
A person who is unable to understand what makes the difference between wrong or right or a person suffering from mental disorder cannot be said to possess this basic norm of human behavior cannot be said to have committed a crime as he does not know what he is doing.

If a medical profession, the doctor in the case of an operation, which he knew to be dangerous, with the best of his skill and care performs it and after that the person dies. Death of the patient is caused, he wouldn't be guilty of committing a criminal offence because he had no guilty intention to commit it.

The famous English jurist William Blackstone statement:
"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"

Sometimes the life of a person is more precious if they are innocent and can't suffer due to any type of trouble. Because if an innocent people once punished can not be able to revert it back to that people somehow the punishment given to the people proven wrong question arises upon the legislature for Injustice with the innocent people. Every person's life and their rights are equally important.

This maxim clarifies about in which circumstances the act was committed and also helps to determine whether an act committed is criminal in nature or not.
  • R Vs. Tolson (1889) 23 QBD 168
  • R Vs. Prince (1875) L.R. 2 Cr. Cas. Res. 154

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