The Criminal Attempts Act 1981 (“the Act”) is an Act which amends the law of England and Wales regarding attempts to commit offences and conspiracy to commit offences which, in the circumstances, cannot ultimately be committed. It abolishes the offence of attempt at common law. It also repeals the provisions of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 which established the offence of “loitering with intent.” Furthermore, it makes provision against unauthorised interference with vehicles. The Act was commenced on 27 August 1981.
Under common law conspiracy it was possible to commit the offence of conspiracy where the act which it was conspired to do was not criminal. This common law position was amended by the Criminal Law Act 1977 which introduced the statutory offence of conspiracy. The 1997 Act was later amended by the 1981 Act.
Section 1 of the Act covers attempts to commit an offence. If, with the intent to commit an offence to which section 1 applies, a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence then he is guilty of attempting to commit the offence. A person may be guilty of an attempt to commit an offence even where the circumstances are such that the commission of the offence is impossible. A criminal attempt may be committed under this section with respect to any offence which, if it were completed, would be triable in England and Wales as an indictable offence (except conspiracy, aiding or abetting or encouraging or assisting suicide).
The words “more than merely preparatory” in section 1 have been subject to considerable interpretation by the courts. For instance, in R. v Jones  3 All E.R. 886, it was held that the words “more than merely preparatory” do not mean the “last act within his power.” In addition, it has been held that it is not sufficient for the purposes of section 1(1) to enter into an agreement to aid and abet; the Court of Appeal quashed convictions for conspiracy to aid and abet the production of cannabis as the actus reus of the offence under section 1(1) had not been committed in R. v Kenning  EWCA Crim 1534.
Moreover, judicial and academic opinion on what the mens rea for an attempted crime should be is varied, especially on whether it should include recklessness. In R. v Khan  2 All E.R. 783, the mens rea for rape and attempted rape were deemed to be the same.In its 2007 paper, Conspiracy and Attempts A Consultation Paper, the Law Commission suggested that the law in this area was in need of reform. It suggested that section 1 be repealed and replaced with two separate offences of “criminal attempt” and “criminal preparation.”
The Criminal Justice Act 1993 inserted section 1A into the Act. Section 1A applies to so called “Group A” offences which includes theft, false accounting and blackmail. Section 1A applies where an act is done in England and Wales and that act would have fallen into the definition of an attempted crime in terms of section 1 of the Act if it were not for the fact that the offence, if completed, would not be triable in England and Wales. The effect of section 1A is therefore to extend the jurisdiction of the Act in relation to certain types of attempted crime.
Sections 3 and 4
Other statutes may create specific crimes of attempt but according to section 3 of the Act, where another Act creates an offence of attempt, similar rules apply to that offence as the rules in section 1. However, this section does not have retrospective effect. Section 4 sets out the penalties applicable to attempted crimes.
As a result of the enactment of the Act, the offence of attempt at common law and any offence at common law of procuring materials for crime were abolished for all purposes not relating to acts done before the commencement of the Act. For any offences committed after the commencement of the Act, references to attempt at common law in previous statutes should be construed as references to the offence as defined in section 1 of the Act.
Sections 8 and 9
As noted above, the Act (section 8) abolishes the crime of “loitering with intent” under the Vagrancy Act 1824. In addition, section 9 of the Act creates an offence of “interference with vehicles.” A person is guilty of this offence if he interferes with a motor vehicle or trailer or with anything carried in or on a motor vehicle or trailer with the intention that another offence (such as theft or taking and driving away without consent) shall be committed by himself or by some other person. According to M (Neil) (A Juvenile) v DPP  Crim. L.R. 316, the maximum sentence for this offence is three months.
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