Indian Penal Code

Elements of Crime

Every country usually has its own set of codified laws describing various crimes and punishments. In India, this can be either the Indian Penal Code or any other special criminal laws. Regardless of which laws we refer to, there are always some elements of crime common to all of them. These elements generally constitute the backbone of every criminal case.

Elements of Crime


Elements of Crime

The main criminal laws in India include the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code. People often refer to these three as general laws. Apart from these three laws, we also have other laws that relate to specific kinds of offences.

For example, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act deals with particular financial crimes. Even other laws that do not specifically regulate crimes, like the Companies Act, contain some offences and penalties.

The most important thing common in all these laws is that they contain certain basic elements. The following are four basic elements of crime:

  1. Accused person
  2. Mens rea
  3. Actus reus
  4. Injury

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1. Accused person

No crime can ever occur out of thin air because that would simply be an accident. In order to constitute a crime, it is important for somebody to commit it. The law should always be able to pinpoint the person who is responsible for committing an offence.

The term accused “person” does not suggest that only a human being can commit offences. According to Section 11 of IPC, the term “person” also includes a company and an association or body of persons. Therefore, even a trust, an NGO and a public company can commit offences.

Furthermore, certain offences can implicate more than one person for the same crime. In such cases, all persons will face trial and may have to face punishment together.

2. Mens rea

A mere person will never commit a crime unless he possesses some intention to commit it. The law generally refers to this intention as mens rea, which means “guilty mind” in Latin.

The term mens rea has been derived from a famous Latin maxim: Actus non factit reum nesi mens sit rea. This basically means that an act cannot be guilty if it does not accompany a guilty mind.

The element of mens rea itself comprises of certain inherent elements. These include intention, motive or knowledge. Which of these elements must exist in order to constitute an offence generally depends on the relevant provision.

For example, Section 300 of IPC contains various kinds of acts which amount to the offence of murder. These acts may include an act done with the “intention” of causing bodily injury sufficient to cause death.

Furthermore, it also includes an act of which the offender has “knowledge” of it being imminently dangerous. Therefore. we need to look at the relevant provisions to understand what kind of intention is necessary.

Crimes in the absence of mens rea

Although mens rea is an essential element of crime, some offences can occur without it. For example, Section 304-A of IPC makes death by negligence a criminal offence. In such cases, a “negligent act” would not include the intention to cause death. However, negligence or mistake itself is sufficient to constitute a crime.

3. Actus reus

Merely possessing a guilty mind and thinking of committing a crime is not enough. The accused person must also act on that intention and do something in its furtherance. Actus reus basically refers to an act or omission which leads to the completion of an offence. Both mens rea, as well as actus reus, together are important to create an offence.

Actus reus can be a positive act, such as stabbing a person to cause his death. It can also be an omission (failure) to perform an action. For example, driving a vehicle without a driving license is an omission.

4. Injury

The last of the basic elements of crime is an injury. There can be no crime if no person faces some kind of an injury. According to Section 44 of IPC, “injury” means any harm caused to a person illegally either in mind, body, reputation or property.

However, there can be some crimes which might not require injuries to anybody. For example, driving without a driving license is a crime even if it may not harm anybody.

Solved question on Elements of Crime

State which of the following elements are not necessary for certain kinds of crimes:

(a) accused person          (b) mens rea          (c) actus reus          (d) injury

Answer: (b) and (d)

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