Criminal Liability: Meaning and Legality

In most states, crimes are categorized as unlawful offenses (more serious offenses) and wrongdoings (less genuine offenses). Criminal culpability is the term used to describe both a person's guilt for a crime and the punishment that will be imposed by society. In order to help keep society secure, a legal expert (investigator) prosecutes the criminal since crime harms the community as a whole (in addition to the victim or victims). A person's guilt for a crime could be used to judge them. This is done with the presumption that the person who perpetrated the crime is to blame, together with the necessary expectation that they will be held accountable.

What is Criminal Liability?

Criminal Liability may be defined as −

“There may be positive, negative, or neutral effects when someone acts or does anything. A person is responsible for the effects of their actions. Criminal culpability, as used in law, is the responsibility a person bears for committing a crime when that person acted with criminal purpose rather than accidentally or without the capacity to do so.”

Simply put, the word "criminally liable" refers to the possibility of legal action against you for breaking the law. Depending on whether you actually committed the crime or are just being suspected of doing so, this can be either prospective or actual liability. You will be held accountable for the crime and given the appropriate sentence if culpability is established in court.

In cases of criminal responsibility, the government alleges that you may have committed a crime and brings a lawsuit against you.

Elements of Criminal Liability

There are two main elements of criminal liability 

Actus Rea

Actus reus is the main justification for criminal responsibility. Its Latin name translates to "blameworthy direct." The "outside element" is another term for the objective component of a crime. It speaks of the fundamental traits that define regulation.

According to Glanville Williams' criminal code, actus reus is "every one of the external circumstances and impacts indicated in law and order as characterizing what is occurring."Consequently, everything possible to exclude the psychological perspective may be used.

The components of actus reus are determined by the criminal legislation of the nation, which is why they vary from nation to nation. Whether actus reus is necessary depends critically on the legal concept of crime.

Principles of Actus Rea in Indian Penal Code, 1860

There are six principles of Actus Rea in IPC 

Mens Rea

Another broad principle of criminal responsibility is mens rea. Its Latin definition is "guilty mind," the exact opposite of "actus reus." It can be explained as a mental component of a person's desire to commit a crime in laymen's terms. One of the fundamental requirements for committing a crime is a sound mental state. Mens rea is thus the driving force behind the criminal act. There was a purpose to perpetrate these crimes in situations of murder, forced sexual assault, property theft, homicide, etc. by the offender.

The Latin phrase "actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea," which literally translates as "the act does not make one guilty unless the thought is also guilty," serves as the foundation for the notion of mens rea. This maxim states that only a physical act may make something illegal. In addition, the mens rea proponent agreed that everyone had the ability to decide between right and wrong. To make the appropriate decision, a person can use wisdom and discretion. He must accept responsibility for the decision he has made. Humans have the freedom to behave freely since they are born free.

Principles of Mens Rea in Indian Penal Code, 1860

Offenses involving the mens rea principle are not specifically mentioned in the Indian Penal Code. Several phrases, however, are used in various offenses to indicate the presence of mens rea. These phrases include unfair profit or unfair loss, dishonesty, fraud, reasonable suspicion, criminal knowledge or intent, intentional participation, freely, malignantly, willfully, and other similar expressions. Acts that, in the absence of specific conditions specified in this chapter, would constitute an offense fall within the general exceptions stated in Chapter IV of the IPC.

Types of Criminal Liability

There are two types of criminal liability 

Individual Criminal Liability

An individual or group of people can commit an offense or engage in illegal activities. An individual is accountable for the criminal culpability of whatever crimes they commit.

As an illustration, consider the four buddies A, B, C, and D. They attend the same college and share a home. A defeated D one day due to a disagreement between the two. As a result of the unlawful act, A will be held accountable, but B and C will not be held accountable. Therefore, instance A is a superb illustration of a person's criminal responsibility.

Joint Criminal Liability

Individual and group criminal culpability are in direct opposition to one another. In circumstances where two or more people are involved in committing a crime, everyone involved is responsible for the offense. In cases of collective culpability, in addition to direct participants, indirect participants are also apprehended; however, depending on their involvement in the crime, the punishment for each participant may vary or be the same.

The majority of deliberate or planned crimes fall under the umbrella of group criminal culpability. Group responsibility requirements are covered under joint liability in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The IPC, 1860's Sections 34 to 38 represent the idea of joint accountability in committing crime.


Criminality is one of the numerous problems that plague our society. Although there is no universally accepted definition of crime, certain actions taken by an individual or a group of individuals that cause harm to others or disturb the peace and tranquility of society may be seen as infractions. To prevent future protests, lawful punishment is meted out to those who break the law. Criminal liability describes a person's accountability for a crime as well as the consequences that society will impose. Crimes include assaulting public requests, mistreating or obstructing public property, injuring the general populace, assaulting people and denying them their freedom, assaulting people's possessions or privileges related to them, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the main elements of criminal liability?

Ans. There are two main elements of criminal liability i.e. Actus Rea and Mens Rea.

Q2. What are the five components to establish criminal liability?

Ans. The components of a crime are the criminal motive, simultaneousness, causation, harm, and associated circumstances. Crimes that produce negative outcomes only have causation and damage present.

Q3. How is criminal liability decided?

Ans. In Indian law, Criminal liability, for a crime, is typically decided by a judge in a court of law. To prove guilty of a crime, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the evidence against the defendant must be so strong that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person that the defendant committed the crime.

Updated on: 10-Mar-2023


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