Elements of Crime


Author: Mehak Kumari Vikrant Bhambi, Symbiosis Law college, pune.

*This article has been written by the author while pursuing Certificate Course on Research Methodology with us.


A law that relates to a crime is known as criminal law. It is a branch of public law. Crime is an unlawful act that is published either by the state or by any lawful authority. In these proceedings, the state is a party, because a crime is a wrong against the whole society, not only against an individual. Criminal law has been codified in various subjects such as IPC (Indian Penal Code), CRPC(Criminal Procedure Code), IEAIndian Evidence Act) by the legislature. In these laws, punishment is used as a bearer torch. This is done to prevent and prohibit the citizens to avoid them from unsocial and wild behavior or conduct. Also, this law ensures that the citizens of India are safe. The Penal Code nowhere defines what a crime is. It can be said to an act of commission or omission contrary to law. Criminal law arises a liability of a person who commits a crime under the eyes of the law.

Definitions of Crime

Crime is defined as “an act punishable by law as forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare.” Crime has a wide definition. In other words, any act which is injurious to the public welfare or to the society is known as crime. In the modern era, definition is changed according to the crime rates.[i]

Blackstone in his “commentaries on The Laws of England” has defined crime as “an act committed or omitted in violation of a Public law either forbidding or commanding it.”[ii]

According to Bentham, “offences are whatever the legislature has prohibited for good or for bad reasons.[iii]

Elements of Crime

The chief elements necessary to constitute a crime are defined as follows:-

Maxim:‘Actus nonfacitreum nisi mens sit rea’ is a well- known maxim of criminal law. It means ‘an act does not make an accused guilty unless it has been done by him with malafide intention.

Mainly, the word ‘crime’ consists of two elements: – ‘Actus Reus &Mens Rea’. The former represents the ‘physical aspect of crime’& latter represents ‘its mental aspect.’

  1. There must be a human being.
  2. An act must have been committed by him.
  3. Mala fide intention must be there.
  4. Some physical injury must have been caused while doing that act.[iv]
  1. Human Being: Section 11 of IPC

The act must have been done by a human being. There are certain illustrations of ancient legal institutions in which punishments being inflicted on animals or inanimate objects for injuries caused by them. In those days, the administration of criminal justice was dominated by the idea of retribution. For example, when a child used to fall on the ground and got hurt, we kicked the ground to console the child. The word ‘Person’ is defined in section 11of IPC, which includes the company, association, or body of persons whether incorporated or not. It includes a company, association, or body of persons whether incorporated or not. This also includes artificial or juridical persons. He is a legal entity created by law which is not a natural person such as a corporation created by law which is not a natural person such as a corporation created under state statute.[v]

  • Actus Reus

A human being and mala fide intention both are not sufficient for an illegal act. There must be some physical activity done by a person. Only thoughts cannot be held liable unless it has been accompanied by some physical activity.

According to Kenny ‘actusreus is such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent. The act done or omitted must be an act forbidden or commanded by some law.

According to Russel calls actusreus as the ‘physical result of human conduct.’Actusreus always requires a voluntary act. It is more than an act, it can be the omission to act or a state of being.

Illustrations: –

(a) If A is in the mere possession of an illegal narcotic, it will come under the state of being or an act.

(b) If parents have failed to provide the basic necessities to their children for survival, it will also come under omission.

(C) A, who is driving while intoxicating, it will come under actusreus.[vi]

There can be actusreus without mensrea.


 If a child who is below the age of 5 years took a pistol and shot his relatives. This is an actusreus without mensrea.[vii]

  • Mensrea

Actusreus represents one element in the commission of a crime. On the other side, the guilty mind represents the second element of a crime. Malafide intention refers to the knowledge, intention, and recklessness of the accused. The word ‘intention’ means “wilfully”. Commonly, it is of two types: – Specific and General. Specific intention uses for the specific purpose, while general intention does not require a further intention. The knowledge form of a guilty mind means that the accused must have knowledge of the specific circumstance of the crime. The word “knowingly” are used for a specific kind of knowledge. The third type of intention is recklessness. This is a type of intent is found in crimes. For an example: – to drive a vehicle rashly on the road which creates a danger to cause death, although he is driving without any guilty mind. Mensrea is a sacrosanct principle of criminal law, it can be ignored in certain situations, which are defined as follow:-

  • Kidnapping and abduction(section 359 & section 363)
  • Sedition(section 124-A)
  • Waging war(Section 121)
  • Counterfeiting coins(section 232)

This is known as the rule of strict liability also, in this neither presence nor absence of a guilty mind is relevant.There are various laws that introduce the concept of strict liability.[viii]

Case Law: – State of Maharashtra vs. M.H. George (AIR 1965 SC 722)

In this case, it was held that merely because a statute deals with a grave social evil is not sufficient to infer strict liability, it must be seen that whether the imposition of strict liability would assist in the enforcement of regulations. Unless this is so, there is no reason in penalizing him and it cannot be inferred that the legislature imposed strict liability merely in order to find a luckless victim.”

In this case, some restrictions were placed on the entry of gold into India, while superseding its earlier notification. The gold bars were removed from the accused jacket on his arrival on Bombay. He took a plea that there was no mensrea and was unaware of the RBI notification. After considering the subject and object of an act i.e. (FERA, 1947), the Hon’ble Court held that there was no scope for the invocation of the doctrine of mensrea in this particular case. The main object and purpose of the Act would be frustrated if the accused should be proved to have knowledge that he was contravening the law before he could be held to have contravened was that the object would not be defeated.[ix]

Case Law: – Nathulal vs. State of M.P. (AIR 1966 Sc 43)

In this case, the Hon’ble Court has held that the object and provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 Act would not be defeated by reading mensrea. An application had been made by the appellant, who is a dealer in food grains for a license but no intimation was given to him regarding the rejection of license. Foodgrains were purchased from time to time and submitted returns to the concerned department. One day, his godowns had been checked by a food inspector and found food grains storage without any license. And he was held convicted by the lower court. But the appellate court set aside his conviction on the ground that there was no mensrea on his part.

In this case, the Hon’ble Court held that it is a presumption that generally, mensrea is an essential ingredient in every criminal offence, but it can be rebutted either by the expert words of a law which is creating the offence or by mandatory implications. The rule of mensrea can be excluded from mandatory implications where it comes under the rule of ‘strict liabilty’ or where it defeats the promotion of law.[x]

[i]https://en.m.wikipedia.org- visited on 19-04-2020

[ii]https://en.m.wikipedia.org- visited on 19-04-2020

[iii] Dr Ashok K. Jain- Ascent Publications

[iv] Prof S.N. Misra- Indian Penal Code (with the criminal law amendment Act, 2018)

[v]Ratanlal&Dhirajlal- the Indian Penal Code 35th edition, LexisNexis Publication.

[vi] KD Gaur- Indian Penal Code- Sixth Edition.

[vii]Prof. T. Bhattacharya- The Indian Penal Code, Central Law Agency.

[viii] KD Gaur- Indian Penal Code- Sixth edition.

[ix]Dr Ashok K. Jain- Ascent Publications

[x]Dr Ashok K. Jain- Ascent Publications