What Is Liability In Criminal Law?

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What Is Liability In Criminal Law?


Chances are in your lifetime you’ll experience criminal activity, whether it be directly or indirectly.

If you ever find yourself in court regarding criminal activity, it’s important to know the relevant terminology - for example, liability. But what does liability mean? How does liability in criminal law affect a court case?

Read on to learn more about liability in criminal law, including information on what actually counts as a crime, and how to find the right criminal defence solicitor for you.


What is a Crime?

Before we delve into the intricacies of criminal liability, it’s important to first understand what a crime is. There are many definitions of a crime - however, the most basic outline of a crime is ‘an illegal act that causes physical or psychological harm or damage to (or loss of) property’.

There are many different types of criminal offences. Some violent crimes include murder and manslaughter, sexual offences (e.g rape), and assault (e.g GBH, ABH). Crimes against property include criminal damage and arson. Some dishonesty offences include theft (e.g burglary) or fraud. Crimes against justice include giving false evidence, perverting the course of justice, and perjury.


What Does Criminal Liability Mean?

If you are criminally liable, you are likely to be held responsible for breaking the law - whether it be potential or actual responsibility. Criminal liability is considered to determine whether a person will be charged and sentenced. There are two elements to criminal liability - the physical element and the mental element. These are generally referred to as the ‘actus reus’ and the ‘mens rea’.

Ultimately, if liability is proven in court - then the government believes that you committed the crime. This means that you will be held responsible for the criminal action(s), and you’ll be prosecuted and sentenced in court.


Criminal Intent (aka Mens Rea)

In most criminal cases, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant harboured mens rea (criminal intent). This essentially means that the court needs to prove that the defendant had the intent to commit a crime.

In civil cases, however, criminal intent is not required - this is because most civil actions involve allegations that the defendant harmed the plaintiff by means of negligence rather than unlawful actions.

Mens Rea refers to the intention or knowledge of the wrongdoing regarding criminal activity as opposed to the action of criminal activity alone.


Implied Liability

Criminal liability typically falls on the person who committed the criminal act directly - however, this isn’t always the case. In some instances, the liability falls on those who were directly involved in the act too.

For example, in cases of murder, somebody involved in the murder may also be liable for the death even if they didn’t commit the physical act of murder. In this instance, a getaway driver or somebody that helped to cover up the crime may be found liable.


Strict Liability

Typically, the court needs to prove liability to convict a person of a crime as well as prove that the criminal act occurred. For example, to prove an assault, the court will usually need to prove that the defendant assaulted the person as well as the fact that the defendant abused the person with the intent to harm the person.

However, with strict liability crimes, the prosecution only needs to prove that the person engaged in the offence - for example, businesses breaching health and safety, and certain driving offences. Certain acts can justify imposing criminal liability regardless of the intent - it is an exception as opposed to a rule.


Not Liable (But Responsible)

The law regarding criminal liability can be nuanced and can recognise particular instances where a person engaged directly in the criminal act as not liable for the crime. This means that somebody who committed an act may not be legally accountable for it.

One of the main reasons someone may be responsible for the crime but not liable is mental incapacity. Someone may lack mental capacity in a criminal situation if they don’t have a complete understanding of the decision, remember certain information, or be able to make a decision.

Minors are also exempt from certain criminal liability. In the UK, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old, which means that children under the age of 10 can not be arrested or charged with a crime. This is because they are unable to form intent, which means they are not legally accountable for their criminal actions.


Finding The Right Criminal Defence Solicitor

If you find yourself in a situation where you need legal advice, simply knowing the right terms and regulations isn’t enough - and you may need a quality criminal defence solicitor.

This is where we can help. Bell Lamb & Joynson is one of the oldest and most experienced criminal defence solicitors in the North West, serving clients locally and nationally.

We understand your legal rights regardless of the offence that you have been accused of committing. Our dedicated team at Bell Lamb & Joynson has vast experience with criminal law and dealing with clients, and understands how stressful and frightening it can be to be faced with criminal charges.

Your relationships, job, reputation, and ultimately your liberty could be at stake - which is why it’s so important to find the right criminal defence solicitor for you.

It is our role to find and achieve the best possible solution for you - which we are good at due to our experience of over 200 years. Don’t just take our word for it - we’re ranked in the top 10 of criminal defence firms on a national basis. This is based on our client feedback at an independent solicitor's review platform.

By volume, we are in the top 20% of criminal legal solicitors in England and Wales. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you.