The Mental Element

  • Jonathan Herring
  • Marise Cremona
Part of the Macmillan Law Masters book series (PMLM)


The majority of criminal offences require, in addition to the actus reus, a specific state of mind on the part of the accused, usually referred to as the mens rea. Many less serious crimes require no mens rea, but simply proof that the defendant caused the prohibited harm. These are known as strict liability crimes and will be discussed separately in Chapter 6. They tend to be crimes that carry lower sentences and focus on discouraging a particular harm rather than imposing moral blame. Most serious crimes require proof of some a guilty state of mind, for example that the defendant intended or foresaw a particular result. The draft Criminal Code Bill uses the ‘fault element’ rather than mens rea and states:
‘fault element; means an element of an offence consisting:
  1. (a)

    of a state of mind with which a person acts; or

  2. (b)

    of a failure to comply with a standard of conduct; or

  3. (c)

    partly of such a state of mind and partly of such a failure’ (clause 6).



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Bibliography and Further Reading

  1. Birch: The Foresight Saga: The Biggest Mistake of All?, [1988] Criminal Law Review, 4.Google Scholar
  2. Duff: The Obscure Intentions of the House of Lords, [1986] Criminal Law Review, 771.Google Scholar
  3. Gardner: Recklessness Redefined, (1993) 109 Law Quarterly Review, 21.Google Scholar
  4. Gardner: The Importance of Majewski, (1994) 14 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 26.Google Scholar
  5. Hart: Punishment and Responsibility (1968, Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  6. Horder: Intention in the Criminal Law A Rejoinder, (1995) Modern Law Review, 678.Google Scholar
  7. Kenny: Outlines of Criminal Law (16th edition, 1952, Cambridge University Press) at 186.Google Scholar
  8. Lacey: A Clear Concept of Intention: Elusive or Illusory?, (1993) 56 Modern Law Review, 621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Law Commission No. 89: Report on the Mental Element in Crime (1978).Google Scholar
  10. Leigh: Recklessness after Reid, (1993) 56 Modern Law Review, 208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Patient: Transferred Malice A Misleading Misnomer, (1990) Journal of Criminal Law, 116.Google Scholar
  12. Simester: Moral Certainty and the Boundaries of Intention, (1996) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 445.Google Scholar
  13. Smith: Comment on Hancock and Shankland, [1986] Criminal Law Review, 400.Google Scholar
  14. Sullivan: Cause and the Contemporaneity of Actus Reus and Mens Rea, (1993) Cambridge Law Journal, 487.Google Scholar
  15. Wells: The Mental Element in Crime 1974-83: Lighthouse Some Good, [1984] Criminal Law Review, 652.Google Scholar
  16. Williams. Recklessness Redefined, [1981] Cambridge Law Journal, 252.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Marise Cremona and Jonathan Herring 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Herring
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marise Cremona
    • 3
  1. 1.University of CambridgeNew HallUK
  2. 2.Selwyn CollegeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.European Commercial Law Unit, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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