Criminal Law

General Principles

Attempts

The actus reus – the guity actions – 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. 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 an attempt. In Eagleton (1855) it was said that the defendant must themselves perform everything up to the last act in the commission of an offence.[1] In Davey (1968) it was ruled tha the acts in question must not have any purpose other than the commission of a crime.[2]

The following quote is from Lord Parker CJ in Davey:

What amounts to an attempt has been described variously in the authorities, and for my part I prefer to adopt the definition given in Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law, 5th Ed. (1894) art. 50, where it says that: ‘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. That, as Stephen said, depends upon the facts of each case. A helpful definition is given in paragraph 4104 in the current edition of Archbold’s Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, where it is stated in this form: ‘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.’

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.[3]

 

[1] Eagleton (1855) 169 ER.

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

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

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