Pocket Notes

Elements of Crime

Human being is a social animal. Society needs a peaceful and harmonized environment to live in. Greed, anger, lust, shortcut to become wealthy etc. are the factors affecting the harmony of society. Indian Penal Code lays down provisions to categorize these factors as offence and also provides punishment for the same.

Objective of the Code

To define and categorize different crimes and to provide punishment to the criminals.

Ingredients of Crime

  • Human Being
    A human being is a basic element of the crime. There is no provision in law to punish animals. Instead, the person who is the owner of that animal is penalized under the law. The term ‘person‘ is defined under section 11 of the Act.
    Scooby-Doo, the dog of a person, Shaggy. Scooby kills a lady, Daphne. Shaggy would be held liable for the offence.
  • Conduct or Actus Reus (Physical Aspect)
    Conduct means the behaviour of a person which is prohibited by law. In other words, any act whose consequence is defined as an offence, under the code.
    If Arghya shoots at Binod to kill him, but the bullet causes only slight injury to Binod. Arghya can not be held liable for murder (because to call it murder the injury must result in the death of the victim).
    • Actus Reus can be a positive act. Like, stabbing a person to cause his death.
    • It can be an act of omission (failure to perform an action). Like, Driving a vehicle without a driving license.
  • Mens Rea (Mental Aspect)
    Mens Rea refers to a guilty mind, or the wrongful intention to commit a wrongdoing or an act which has been prohibited under the code.
    Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’, which mean ‘mere act alone does not make a man guilty unless his intentions were so‘.

Actus Reus and Mens Rea must exist at the same point of time to convict a person for the offense. If either of them is missing , individual can’t be convicted.

Types of Mens Rea

  • Intention
    It means that there could be only one possible consequence of the act. E.g:- A wants to kill B. So, he shoots B in the head. Here, the only consequence of the act is death.
    Case Law
    State of Maharashtra v. M.H George, 1965
    It was held that criminal intention must be proved unless it is specifically mentioned under Special acts that proving intent isn’t required.
  • Knowledge
    It means that a person is aware of all the possible consequences or results of his act. But where a particular offence is forbidden, the question of knowledge becomes immaterial.
    • Reason to Believe
      It is defined under sec. 26 of IPC, which means, the person has sufficient reason to believe that there a particular thing will be the result of his action.
  • Negligence
    It means failure to take reasonable care that a reasonable and prudent person is expected to do.

Exceptions to Mens Rea

There are following exceptional situations where proving Mens Rea is not required:-

  • Petty Cases
    Any offence punishable only with fine not exceeding one thousand rupees. It is defined as under Section 376 of CrPC.
  • Absolute Liability
    Any enterprise carrying on hazardous and inherently dangerous activities for private profit has an obligation to compensate those suffering therefrom. (M.C Mehta vs. Union of India,1987)

Case Law
State of Maharashtra v. M.H. George,1965
Absolute liability is not to be lightly presumed but it has to be clearly established.

  • In the Public Interest.
  • Kidnapping (Section 359) and Abduction (Section 363)
  • Waging War against the State (Section 121)
  • Sedition (Section 124A)
  • Counterfeiting Coins ( Section 232)
  • Ignorance of Law
    Ignorantia juris no exusat’, it implies ignorance of the law is not excusable. If somebody smokes in a public place and says he doesn’t know that smoking is public place is an offence, it is not excusable and he shall be held guilty for the same offence.
  • Where it is difficult to prove mens rea.
    Case Law
    Sherras v. De Rutzen, 1895
    The court ruled out following offences where mens rea is not an essential ingredient of a crime:
    • Cases not criminal in the real sense but which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty, e.g. Revenue Acts,
    • Public Nuisance
    • Cases criminal in form but which are really only a summary mode of enforcing a civil right.
  • Injury
    It is defined as under Section 44 of IPC. It states, any harm caused to-
    • Body
    • Mind
    • Property
    • Reputation

Thus, this section clarifies injuries is not limited to the physical or visible one. It can also be a mental injury.

There can also be crimes which might not require injuries to anybody. E.g- running a liquor shop without a license is a crime even if it may not harm anybody.


To conclude, it can be said that, a crime is a human action which results in an injury to some person and such an act is prohibited by law. According to Sir J.Stephen, the doctrine of mens rea is misleading. As mens rea was needed when the offences were not defined, but, at present, we have a definition of almost every offence. Indian Penal Code lays down definition which provides clear cut essential ingredients of a particular offence. Thus, in the present scenario, only the essentials are required to prove an offence.

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