Parties to Crime Lecture

1.0 Introduction

It is not always just the person that carries out the actus reus of the offence that has been involved. Other people can play a part in the crime alongside this person and they too can be liable for it in law, despite not committing the crime and getting their hands dirty themselves. For example, a person hiring a hitman to carry out their undesirable activities for them will not be absolved of any liability for the crimes he carries out even though they themselves did not physically commit said offence.

In law the different roles that people can play in the commission of an offence can be broken down as follows:

  • The principal offender
  • Joint principals
  • Innocent agents
  • Secondary parties

2.0 The Principal Offender

The principal offender is the person who carries out the actus reus, or in lay terms, the main perpetrator of the offence.

3.0 Joint Principals

A joint principal contributes to the actus reus by committing their own independent act. For example, in a battery a joint principal would throw a punch of their own at the victim so be equally liable.

4.0 Innocent Agents

It is possible that the principal offender will not carry out the actus reus of their chosen offence themselves, but instead utilise an innocent third party to carry out the actus reus instead. There are two distinct situations where this could arise.

  1. Where the agent lacks the mens rea for the offence
  2. Where the agent has a defence available to them

4.1 Where the agent lacks the mens rea for the offence

It is possible to carry out the actus reus of a crime without holding the requisite mens rea and thus no offence will be committed. This can arise in the instance of innocent agents where they are tricked into carrying out the actus reus. As the agent does not appreciate the nature of what they are doing, the requisite accompanying mens rea is not present in order for it to be an offence.

Consider as an example an ex-wife wants to kill her ex-husband. The husband has a fatal peanut allergy so the woman gives their adult daughter a batch of peanut brownies to take over to the ex-husband’s house. As far as the daughter is aware they are nut free and gives these to the man whereupon he eats one and he is killed instantly. The daughter has no idea that the brownies contain nuts so cannot have the mens rea for the murder of the ex-husband, the intention to kill. The ex-wife however holds the mens rea and brought about the actus reus by using the daughter as an agent to carry out her desired act. In this scenario the ex-wife would remain the principal offender.

4.2 Where the agent has a defence available to them

Where there is a defence available that negates the actus reus then this will negate their liability for the offence. In relation to innocent agents for example, if the agent is tricked by the principal offender then they may have the defence of mistake. Alternatively, where the innocent agent is below the criminal age of responsibility this too would negate the actus reus. Consider for example the above scenario where the ex-wife wants to kill her ex-husband. Adapting the facts so that the daughter is only 5 would absolve her of any liability on this basis. Now consider a different situation where a person goes hunting with another and convinces them that a dark shadow moving in the distance is a bear coming for them and tells them to shoot it. Actually the dark shape is a person they have had an argument with and want dead. The person did not know that they were shooting at a person so could plead the defence of mistake.

5.0 Secondary Parties

Secondary parties are more commonly described as accomplices or accessories to the crime. They are people who help or encourage the principal offender without themselves physically carrying out the actus reus. The help must be provided before or during the commission of the offence as any help that comes after the offence has been completed, for example providing the offender with help escaping will not give rise to accomplice liability but may give rise to liability for other principal offences.

There are separate charging provisions in relation to being a secondary party to an indictable offence and to being a secondary party to a summary offence.

Indictable offences

Section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861 provides:

Whosoever shall aid, abet, counsel, or procure the commission of any indictable offence, whether the same be an offenceat common law or by virtue of any Act passed or to be passed, shall be liable to be tried, indicted, and punished as a principal offender.

Summary offences

Section 44 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 provides:

(1) A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission by another person of a summary offence shall be guilty of the like offence and may be tried (whether or not he is charged as a principal) either by a court having jurisdiction to try that other person or by a court having by virtue of his own offence jurisdiction to try him.

(2) Any offence consisting in aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring thecommission of an offence triable either way (other than an offence listed in Schedule 1 to this Act) shall by virtue of this subsection be triable either way.

The effect of these provisions is that the person who aids or assist the principal offender in the commission of the offence will incur the same liability as the principal offender, as if they had committed the offence themselves.

The imposition of secondary liability is very useful to the prosecution in cases of gang crime where the question of “who did it?” is not always easy to establish. For example, in a mass attack it is not always possible to establish who in the group dealt blows to the victim, let alone who dealt the final blow. Under the above provisions it is possible for all members of the group to be treated as equally liable for the offence. This has given rise to notable prosecutions over the years, including those of the offenders in the Stephen Lawrence murder, David Norris and Gary Dobson who were both convicted for the racially motivated stabbing carried out by their gang.

Case in Focus: R v Craig and Bentley (1952) The Times, 10 December

The case of Craig and Bentley is a famous and tragic example of the secondary parties provisions in operation. The two defendants broke into a Croydon warehouse. Craig was armed with a pistol, ammunition and a knife and Bentley had a knife. Bentley was said to suffer from severe learning difficulties and didn’t really understand what was happening. Police were called to the scene and an armed stand-off took place with Craig pointing the pistol at one of the policeman, a PC Sidney Miles. Bentley shouted over to Craig “let him have it” and Craig accordingly shot PC Miles, killing him. Both men were convicted for the murder, Bentley  as an accomplice for telling Craig to shoot the policeman. Craig was underage and was incarcerated for the offence, but Bentley was an adult and was hanged for his part in the crime. It was contended however by Bentley that when he shouted “let him have it” he was actually telling Craig to give up the weapon and surrender it to the police, not to shoot them. He was given a post humorous pardon on this basis, but the legal principle as to liability for secondary parties remains to this day.

The extent of the involvement of each individual will be considered in sentencing but the liability will be the same. As the secondary party shall be tried and punished as the principal offender, it is unnecessary for the prosecution to establish and distinguish whether each party involved was the principal offender or the secondary party as long as it is definite that they were one or the other.

Case in Focus: R v Galliano (1996) Unreported

The defendant was accused of the murder of his wife. There was definitive evidence that he had either killed her himself or employed a killer to carry out the act for him but it was not certain as to which. This was irrelevant as applying the provision correctly, it was unnecessary to distinguish the exact nature of his involvement as long as it was established that he was involved to a certain extent. The defendant was accordingly convicted.

The two provisions set out in relation to the secondary party liability are very similar so for the purposes of understanding the principles behind them the focus will be on the s.8 provision.

5.1 Actus Reus

  • An offence
  • Which is aided, abetted, counselled or procured
  • Causation

5.1.1 An offence

This must be a principal offence and not an inchoate offence. Provided that it can be proven that an offence was carried out, the secondary party may be charged and convicted even if the principal offender is never identified or caught. It is further possible for the conviction of a secondary party to occur in circumstances where the principal offender is acquitted due to lack of evidence or successful pleading of a defence.

Case in Focus: R v Bourne [1952] 36 Cr App R 1251

The defendant became sexually aroused by dogs and in order to satisfy his fantasies he forced his wife into engaging in sexual intercourse with the dog, thus completing the offence of buggery. As the defendant’s wife was acting under duress, she was relieved of liability for the offence as the principal offender, but as an offence had been committed the defendant was liable as the secondary party.

There is however an exception to the requirement that a principal offence is committed for secondary liability to occur and that arises in relation to procuring. Procuring means causing or instigating. In these instances, no offence needs to be complete as the would be principal offender will lack the mens rea for the offence, but so long as the actus reus is established the secondary liability can arise.

Case in focus: R v Millward [1994] Crim LR 527

The defendant instructed his employee to take a vehicle which the defendant knew to be in very poor and dangerous condition, out driving on a public road. The employee did so with no knowledge of the vehicle’s condition and was subsequently involved in a fatal collision with another car. The defendant and the employee were charged with causing death by reckless driving, but the employee was acquitted in absence of the mens rea due to his lack of knowledge of the vehicle’s state. Regardless of there being no principal offence committed the defendant remained liable for the secondary offence.

5.1.2 Aided, abetted, counselled or procured

Section 8 of the 1861 Act provides for liability to arise in 4 separate instances:

  1. Where an offence is aided
  2. Where an offence is abetted
  3. Where an offence is counselled
  4. Where an offence is procured

It was previously thought that these words were interchangeable however Attorney General’s Reference Number 1 of 1975 clarified that this instead creates four individual manners or behaviour in which this element of the actus reus may be satisfied. Any one of these elements is sufficient and it is not necessary to show all four occurred. Each word shall be afforded with is ordinary and natural meaning. The definitions have been set out for each below in order to gage an exact understanding of the behaviour that is encompassed.

Aided: Helped in a practical way or offered support and assistance

Abetted: Encouraged or assisted in the commission of the offence

Counselled: Formally advised in relation to the commission of the offence

Procured: Persuaded or caused someone to commit the offence

Whether the defendant has behaved in a way that amounts to any one of these behaviours is a question of fact for the jury and there is no definitive legal test established to assist. It has been established however in R v Gnango [2011] UKSC 59 that provoking is not the same as encouraging. If a defendant throws a punch it might provoke his victim to throw one in return but this will not without more amount to an encouragement to throw the punch.

Due to the absence of a Good Samaritan requirement in English law, simply spectating a crime and failing to report it is insufficient to constitute any secondary liability.  

5.1.3 Causation

A traditional causation element of the actus reus applies only to procuring. This is due to the fact that procuring means to cause so thus it must be shown that the defendant did in fact, in legal terms, cause the act. In relation to the other elements, traditional causation would be impossible to prove as the principal offender’s act will be free, deliberate and informed which traditionally, as established in R v Kennedy [2007] 3 WLR 612, breaks any chain of causation leading from the secondary party to the ultimate offence. In these cases, there must be a link connecting the parties to the principal offence.

Case in Focus: R v Calhaem [1985] QB 808

The defendant had fallen in love with her solicitor and became obsessed with him. She hired a man named Zajac to kill the solicitor’s girlfriend as she wanted her out of the picture. Zajac had taken her instruction but never had any intention of following up on it he had instead planned to go to the girlfriend’s home so that it looked like he had tried unsuccessfully to kill her in order that the defendant would have to pay him the money as promised. When he arrived at the girlfriend’s house she went crazy and screamed loudly and repeatedly. He had in his words, gone berserk, panicked and killed her. At trial the Court held that it was not necessary to establish that the defendant’s actions in counselling the offence caused the offence as a less direct connection would suffice. In Calhaem’s instance it was sufficient that without her instruction Zajac would never have gone to the girlfriend’s house and this was enough to uphold her conviction as a secondary party.

In relation to encouragement the test of causation is whether the words or acts of the secondary party in encouraging must have acted on the mind of the principal offender in deciding to commit the crime. It must be shown that the principal offender was aware of the encouragement or approval of the secondary party in committing the offence. It is not necessary however to go as far as proving that without such encouragement the offence would not have been committed. It can be seen then that any encouragement must be communicated to the principal offender so a text of encouragement that was never received or a shout of encouragement that was never heard would be insufficient. Where the encouragement is very remote from the time and place the principal offence is committed then the necessary link may be difficult to establish.

Case in Focus: R v Clarkson [1971] 1 WLR 1402

Two soldiers entered a room after hearing a disturbance. Inside they found one of their colleagues raping a woman. Rather than intervening they stayed at the scene to watch. It was held that their actions could not give rise to secondary liability as it must be shown that by being in attendance they intended to encourage the rapist to continue and that it did in practice encourage him.

Any aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring must occur prior to the offence being committed in order to satisfy the necessary link.

5.2 Mens Rea

Once it has been established that an act took place that could give rise to secondary party liability, the accompanying mens rea needs to be shown in order for liability to be completed.

  • Knowledge that the actions and circumstances constituting a criminal offence existed
  • Knowledge that the acts undertaken were capable of encouraging of assisting

There is no requirement of intention to encourage or assist the principal offender, thus the level of mens rea required is reasonably low.

Case in Focus: National Coal Board v Gamble [1959] 1 QB 11

The defendant worked at the National Coal Board operating the weighbridge which involved checking the weights of the lorries leaving the colliery to ensure they were within limits.  One of the lorry drivers had filled his lorry with coal at the yard and taken it to be weighed, whereupon the defendant noticed that the lorry was overweight and told the driver. The driver replied that he was happy to take the risk and the defendant accordingly signed off on it, gave him a weighbridge ticket and allowed him to leave. The driver was subsequently found guilty of driving the overloaded lorry on the highway. In law, the ownership in the coal did not pass to the driver until the ticket was issued to him and, therefore, the driver could not have left the yard without it. The Court held that the defendant was liable as a secondary party as he knew he had the power and the duty to stop the lorry leaving the yard with the coal. It was not necessary that he intended to assist the driver in the offence, it was enough that an act of assistance had been carried out alongside the knowledge of the circumstances in existence that constituted the offence.

5.2.1 Knowledge that actions and circumstances constituting a crime existed

This is not the same as knowledge that the specific offence existed, only knowledge of the circumstances. This can be a difficult concept to understand so it helps to consider an example. If a person encourages another person to shoot at someone, intending to kill them, they do not need to know that this is unlawful and gives rise to the crime of murder. Knowledge that they are killing someone else is sufficient. Similarly encouraging someone to have sex with someone else knowing that the person does not consent to this would be sufficient for secondary liability for rape. There is no need for them to know that this is a crime, just that the act of sexual intercourse will take place and that there is no consent to this is sufficient. This is due to that fact that, as with any liability for any crime, ignorance of the law is no defence.

Case in Focus: Ferguson v Weaving [1951] 1 KB 814

The defendant was charged with aiding and abetting the offence of consuming intoxicating liquor on licensed premises. The defendant was the licensee of the pub in question but he had no knowledge that the customers were consuming alcohol on the premises after closing time and therefore did not hold the requisite mens rea, nor was he liable as a secondary offender.

Mere knowledge that some kind of illegal activity might be undertaken is insufficient for the purposes of the mens rea, the defendant must have a clearer idea of the precise activity being undertaken. Consider the case of R v Bainbridge [1960] 1 QB 129 where the defendant sold cutting equipment which was later used in a bank robbery. The defendant admitted that he thought the equipment would be used for some sort of crime, possibly criminal damage but it was held this was insufficient as the defendant must have more specific knowledge of the facts and circumstances existing, beyond a generic suspicion. DPP for Northern Ireland v Maxwell [1978] 3 All ER 1140 confirmed that knowledge of the specific offence was not necessary as long as the offence committed fell within a range of offences within the defendant’s contemplation. For example, theft, robbery, burglary would all fall within one range, as would actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and murder.

In these types of situations, a defendant will not escape liability by practicing willful blindness, for example, by knowing the situation but negating to ask to obtain any further knowledge.

5.2.2 Knowledge that the acts undertaken were capable of encouraging or assisting

Whilst it is not necessary to show an actual intention to encourage or assist, it is necessary that the defendant is aware that their acts are capable of encouraging or assisting the offence.

Case in Focus: R v JF Alford Transport Limited (1997) 2 Cr. App. R. 326

A company, its managing director, and their transport manager were all charged with aiding and abetting their drivers in making false entries on their record sheets. It was submitted by the prosecution that the defendants must have accepted what the drivers were doing in falsifying the entries. The Court held however that while this was likely the case, it was insufficient for the purposes of imposing secondary liability. It needed to be shown on the facts of any case that something more than knowledge of the activity existed. It must be shown that a deliberate decision not to prevent its commission took place.

This knowledge is not the same as wanting or intending the crime to be committed. In fact, the defendant could be very against the crime but still be liable. This was confirmed in DPP for Northern Ireland v Lynch [1975] AC 653, where the defendant was ordered by Meehan, a member of the IRA, to drive a car to some people Meehan intended to kill and then to drive away afterwards. The defendant knew that Meehan had a fearsome reputation as a violent individual and it was made clear to him that he would come to harm if he did not comply with the instructions. At trial the defendant argued against his murder charge on two points. Although he was found not guilty on the basis of duress, it was clarified by the Court that he would not be relieved of his secondary liability on the basis that he did not agree with the acts of the men. His knowledge of the circumstances and the fact he knew his act was assisting was sufficient.

6.0 Joint Enterprise

Joint enterprise can be explained as a joint plan, where two or more people plan together to commit an offence and then go ahead and execute that plan together, committing the offence. Everyone that participates in executing the plan is liable regardless of who physically carried out the actus reus.

Examination Point

This is an area of the law which has undertaken significant developments in recent months. Accordingly, most of what you will read in your text books is now outdated. For the purposes of appreciating the developments it is necessary to understand the law as it stood before so this has been set out fully for you below. Make sure you read the section in its entirety before attempting to answer any questions on it to make sure that you fully understand the implications of the developments and the law as it stands today.

The Court in R v A [2010] EWCA Crim 1622 set out three situations where traditionally the existence of a joint enterprise could be found.

  1. Joint enterprise between principals
  2. Joint enterprise between principals and accomplices
  3. Parasitic accessorial liability

6.1 Joint enterprise between principals

This is the most conceptually straight forward scenario where two or more people jointly plan to commit a specific offence and then go ahead and commit the offence together. For example, a plan to commit grievous bodily harm which is executed by both defendants laying punches on their chosen victim. Whilst the joint enterprise is useful in prosecuting the defendants in these situations, it does not affect their liability in any way as each would be separately liable for the offence as they would individually both satisfy the actus reus and mens rea.

6.2 Joint enterprise between principals and accomplices

This arises where a person aids and abets the commission of an offence by the principal offender where they share the same common purpose in intending the crime should be committed.

6.3 Parasitic accessorial liability

This is an area of law that you may come across in your reading which used to arise where two or more people plan to commit one offence but one of them then goes beyond the plan and commits a separate offence for example, a jointly planned armed robbery that goes wrong and ends up with one offender killing the owner of the premises. This can give rise to all of the planners being liable for the unplanned offence of murder, provided they hold the necessary mens rea for the parasitic liability, that is foresight that the subsequent offence may be committed. In the past this proved problematic for the courts but R v Gnango [2011] UKSC 59 laid out the guiding principle where the offence subsequently committed is encompassed within the common purpose of the planned offence. For example, as was the case in Gnango, agreeing to commit an affray by having a public shoot out, which results in a third party being shot and killed, thus constituting the offence of murder. The common purpose in this instance was to fire a weapon at another person the planned offence and the offence committed.

6.4 Mens Rea

Examination Point

Pay close attention here as this is a very recent development in the law and you will need to show an awareness and understanding of this if you are aiming for the higher grades. Check your textbooks as unless they were published after March 2016 they will be out of date in this respect so you will not be able to rely on the content. Use the following as guidance and look to read into recent journal articles and legal comment in order to gain a more enhanced understanding of the significance of the development.

New developments in the law on joint enterprise

Traditionally the main significance of the finding of a joint enterprise was to lower the mens rea required by secondary parties where knowledge was not necessary, merely foresight thus making liability easier to impose. This was a greatly criticised principle with campaigns lobbying against guilt by association prominent. Where there is a finding of a joint enterprise and one of the parties commits an offence that furthered the scope of the joint enterprise, as in Gnango, then the other parties could be liable so long as they had foresight that the offence might be committed. This however all changed in the recent case of R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8 which overruled R v Chan Wing-Siu [1985] AC 168 in this respect.

Case in Focus: R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8

The defendant was charged with murder. He had spent the evening with another man, Hirsi, drinking and taking drugs. They became intoxicated and aggressive. They went to a Ms Reid’s house whereupon she told them to leave as she was expecting Mr Fyfe to return home. They replied that they were not scared and would sort him out. They then left but Hirsi returned and was there when Mr Fyfe arrived back. Ms Reid rang the defendant asking him to come and get his friend. Hirsi had entered the house and there was a confrontation between him and Mr Fyfe. The defendant remained outside with a bottle and shouted to his friend Hirsi to do something to Mr Fyfe. He then came to the door and threatened to smash a bottle over Mr Fyfe’s head. Hirsi then stabbed Mr Fyfe to death but the defendant was at all times unaware that Hirsi was carrying a knife. 

At trial the judge directed the jury that the defendant could be found guilty of murder if he realised that it was possible that Hirsi might use the knife with intent to cause serious harm. The defendant was convicted but the Supreme Court overturned the conviction holding that the law had been incorrectly decided in Chan Wing-Siu and that the correct direction was that the defendant must intend the act to take place.

In handing down the verdict in Jogee, Lord Neuberger confirmed that the distinction between foresight or intent is a fine one but none the less exists. He stated that the correct position now in joint enterprise situations is that the secondary party’s foresight of what the principal offender may do is evidence from which the jury might infer a criminal intent, but is not without more, proof of guilt itself. Just because a man foresees something might occur, this does not mean he authorises it to occur.

The effect of this ruling goes beyond just adapting the mens rea for joint enterprise, as it renders parasitic accessorial liability a redundant area of the law. This is due to the fact that liability in this area is based entirely on the defendant having foresight of something that might occur. As foresight is no longer sufficient mens rea liability can no longer occur through this means.

7.0 Charging and Sentencing

Secondary liability means that the offence will be charged and sentenced as if the defendant had carried out the offence themselves, although the extent of the involvement can be taken into account with regards to sentencing.

Examination Point

This is an area which you can excel in by offering critique. It is criticised as it can be seen as lowering the threshold of criminal liability. Traditionally, as you know, both the actus reus and mens rea is required as no one should be guilty for an offence that they did not commit and did not hold the requisite mental element but imposing liability in this manner circumvents this most basic requirement altogether. Would a lesser charge and sentence be more sufficient in this respect? Consider looking at journal articles to gain a better understanding of suggestions for reform in this area to enhance and critique carried out.

Hands on Example

This is an unusual area for you to be tested solely on in an exam under a problem style question and will usually instead be bought up alongside another topic. It is vital that you can identify the parties and the role they play in the crime but in order to do that you will need to complete the question alongside the wider context of a different criminal offence. To gain practice in this area different scenarios have been set out and the actus reus and mens rea of any relevant offences have been provided for you.

Scenario 1


Actus reus: The unlawful killing of a human being under the queen’s peace

Mens rea: The intention to kill

Sam is working out the back of Moonbucks, a popular coffee shop, when his his ex-wife Linda comes in with her new boyfriend Jim. Sam harbours a lot of hatred towards Linda since he caught her cheating on him with another man, whereupon she ended their marriage. Sam knows that Linda suffers from a heart condition that means she is entirely intolerant to caffeine, the consumption of which could prove fatal. Sam tells Jane, a fellow barista, that the decaf machine has broken so he has put the decaf beans into the main machine. This is untrue and subsequently the coffee the Jane pours is actually a caffeinated coffee. Linda drinks this and suffers a fatal heart attack and dies.

Identify the liability of the parties.

Jane: Innocent agent. Jane completes the act of giving Linda the deadly coffee but has no knowledge of this and does not hold the requisite mens rea of intention to kill.

Sam: Principal Offender. He holds the mens rea for murder and brings about the actus reus by utilising Jane to carry out the wrong doing under the misapprehension.

Scenario 2


Actus reus: Appropriation of property belonging to another

Mens rea: Dishonesty, with an intention to permanently deprive another the property

Alf and Phoebe decide really want to buy the latest xbox but cannot afford the price tag. The security at the game shop is very strong so risking taking an xbox from the store is too high. The two of them get together and decide instead to steal the money from handbags in the street. They are walking past a cafe together when they see two old ladies sitting in the window with their bags open and in view. They walk in and chat with the ladies and whilst distracted both place a hand on one of the bags and together pick it up and remove it from the shop. Once outside they empty the bag and are delighted to find that the lady had just been to collect her pension for that week and her purse is full of cash.

Identify the liability of the parties.

Alf and Pheobe joint enterprise liability as they have together planned and executed the offence of theft. Both are liable as joint principal offenders as they both individually hold the actus reus and mens rea of theft.

Scenario 3

Grievous bodily harm

Actus reus: Wounds or inflicts grievous bodily harm

Mens rea: Intention to cause grievous bodily harm

Nb. Under s.18 or s.20 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 grievous bodily harm is an indictable offence.

James and Niall go over to Niall’s ex-girlfriend, Sophie’s house. Sophie is Harry’s sister and Harry is good friends with Niall. Unbeknown to James, Niall has been to visit Harry and asked him to lend him his key for Sophie’s house as he needs to collect some things he left over there before they broke up. Harry believes that Niall actually wants the key so he can steal from Sophie but nonetheless obliges and hands it over. When they arrive at the house Sophie won’t come down to speak with them. The bedroom light is on and the boys can hear voices. James tells Niall to go inside and sort out whoever it is that has his hands on Sophie. He goes into his pocket and pulls out a knife, handing it to Niall saying “that’ll help”. Niall then bangs on the door one last time before unlocking it and going upstairs. He stabs Sophie’s boyfriend in the arm causing severe bleeding.


  • Principal offender as he holds both the actus reus and mens rea for the offence of GBH which is committed


  • Indictable principal offence so possible secondary liability under s.8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.

Actus reus

  • An offence
  • Which is aided, abetted, counselled or procured
  • Causation

The offence of GBH or wounding occurs under s.18 OAPA 1861. This is the principal offence.

The offence is abetted by James who encourages the commission of the grievous bodily harm.

There is a sufficient link between James’ encouragement and handing over of the knife and Niall’s decision to carry out the offence.

Mens rea

  • Knowledge that the actions and circumstances constituting a criminal offence existed
  • Knowledge that the acts undertaken were capable of encouraging of assisting

Discuss whether James’ lack of knowledge regarding Niall’s possession of the key affects this in any way and conclude critically. There is no right or wrong answer as long as this is argued persuasively with legal support.

  • Conclude as to liability as a secondary party on the basis of whether the mens rea was held to exist.


  • Indictable principal offence so possible secondary liability under s.8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.

Actus reus

  • An offence
  • Which is aided, abetted, counselled or procured
  • Causation

Offence of GBH or wounding occurs is the offence under s.18 OAPA 1861. This is the principal   offence.

This offence is aided by Harry providing Niall with the key to the house.

Causation is established by showing a link between the provision of the key and the commission of the offence. Applying Calhem without providing the key Niall would not have got inside so this is sufficient.

Mens Rea

  • Knowledge that the actions and circumstances constituting a criminal offence existed
  • Knowledge that the acts undertaken were capable of encouraging of assisting

Applying Bainbridge, Harry does not have knowledge of the specific circumstances. Applying DPP for Northern Ireland v Maxwell, GBH and burglary are not within the same range of offences of this element of the mens rea is not satisfied.

  • Accordingly, there is no mens reaso no secondary liability arises in relation to Harry’s actions.

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