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Criminal Law

Indirect Forms of Crime


The actus reus of an attempted crime must include not merely acts done in preparation, but acts leading almost all the way to the final completion of the crime in question. An example is given in Waller & Williams[1]  of a potential burglar who buys a torch and draws plans of a certain building, who might, after all, only be fantasising. They go on to point out that the crime of attempt only applies to those consciously endeavouring to commit crimes.


There is, however, a problem with determining how far a person must go in an attempt to constitute one which the law may recognise as criminal. In Eagleton (1855)[2] it was said that the defendant must themselves perform everything up to the last act in the commission of an offence. In Davey (1968)[3] it was ruled that the acts in question must not have any purpose other than the commission of a crime.


The following quote is from Lord Parker CJ in Davey, who refers herein to some contemporary legal texts:


‘An attempt to commit a crime is an act done with intent to commit that crime, and forming part of a series of acts which would constitute its actual commission if it were not interrupted.’ As a general statement that seems to be right, although it does not help to define the point of time at which the series of acts begins…. ‘It is submitted that the actus reus necessary to constitute an attempt is complete if the prisoner does an act which is a step towards the commission of a specific crime, which is immediately and not merely remotely connected with the commission of it, and the doing of which cannot reasonably be regarded as having any other purpose than the commission of the specific crime.’[3]


Normally the intention underlying an attempt is the same as that of the completed crime. This is not always so, as while the intention inherent in murder can be either to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm, the intention inherent in attempted murder has to be to kill and nothing less.[4]

[1] Waller, L & Williams CR, Criminal Law Texts and Cases, 10th Edition, Butterworths, 2005, p 544.

​​[2] Eagleton (1855) 169 ER.

[3] Davey v Lee [1968] 1 QB 366.

[4] Knight v The Queen (1992) 175 CLR 495.

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