criminal law Lecture Notes

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Men's Rea Lecture #2


Under the doctrine of transferred malice a defendant will be liable for an offence if he has the necessary mens rea and commits the actus reus even if the victim differs from the one intended. The basis for this principle is the decision of the court in:

Recommended reading: R v Latimer (1886) 17 QBD 359.

If the defendant has the mens rea for a different offence from that which he commits however, the intent cannot be transferred. See:

Recommended reading: R v Pembliton (1874) LR 2 CCR 119.


It is a general principle in criminal law that for a person's liability to be established it must be shown that the defendant possessed the necessary mens rea at the time the actus reus was committed - in other words the two must coincide.  This is also known as the contemporaneity rule.

In some cases a literal interpretation of this rule would manifestly lead to injustice, and the courts have developed ways of finding coincidence of actus reus and mens rea (a) when the events take place over a period of time, and (b) where they constitute a course of events.


Where the actus reus involves a continuing act a later mens rea during its continuance can coincide. See:

Recommended reading: Fagan v MPC [1969] 1 QB 439
Kaitamaki v R [1985] AC 147.


The second way the courts have dealt with the problem is to consider a chain of events (ie, a continuing series of acts) to be a continuing actus reus for the purposes of the criminal law. If the actus reus and the mens rea are both present at some time during this chain of events, then there is liability. See:

Thabo Meli v R [1954] 1 WLR 228
R v Church [1966] 1 QB 59
R v Le Brun [1991] 3 WLR 653.