Nature and Elements of Criminal Liability

Essential Elements of Crime

There are 4 elements of a crime which are-

  1. The crime must be committed by a person
  2. There must exist actus reus,
  3. There must be a mens rea to commit the crime, with certain exceptions.
  4. There must be injury caused to another person

The crime must be committed by a person

The basic essential element of any crime is that it must be committed by a human being (person) who is under the legal obligation of a human being who is under the legal obligation to act in a particular manner, as an animal cannot commit a crime. Animals used to be punished in ancient times, but now their owners are made liable.

Section 11 of the IPC states that the word ‘person’ includes the company, an association, or a body of persons, whether incorporated or not. The word ‘person’ includes artificial or juridical persons. Therefore, even a trust, an NGO, and a company can commit offences. Moreover, 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.

If there is a criminal liability on a person then it asserts as the deprivation of that person rights, normal life, and everything because the person did a criminal activity which is harsh and not acceptable in society and violates the laws. Criminal liability can be defined by the nature or the degree of the crime there would be different punishments for hurt and different liability for grievous the similar thing is applied to culpable homicide amounting to murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

For criminal liability, there should be a crime committed or there should be criminal activity. For a crime, there are two essential things for it which are Mens Rea and Actus reus. If there is a guilty mind and there is a criminal act then this would be called a criminal activity where the person would be held liable and there will be criminal liability. There are different types of criminal liability which are Individual Liability and Joint Liability.

Individual Liability clearly is applicable to an individual who has committed a criminal act. There are sections pertaining to that area of the crime that how much the punishment or fine would be and what would be the facts and essential things to recognise in an individual criminal activity. If the act is done and it is violating the law and harming the law and order then it the person would be liable for his act on its own, he would be the only person who will be liable for that particular act. This is Individual criminal liability where there is the only person who has criminal liability who has conducted the criminal act.

The other type of criminal liability is Joint liability. As mentioned, the word “joint’ so it is clear that a criminal act which is done by two or, more persons it would be called joint liability where there is no single person held liable for the criminal act. For joint liability, there must be two or more two persons who have committed the crime. Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code talks about criminal activity where there is a conspiracy between the persons who are committing the crime or omitting it. There are certain other sections pertaining to joint liability like sections 120 A and B and 149. These are some of the sections which deal with joint liability.

Criminal liability is not only for the persons (human Beings) there are corporations that also have criminal liability. Criminal Liability of a Corporation is originally the prevalent view that a corporation or a body incorporated, which is a separate legal entity, because of procedural difficulties cannot be charged with offences. The obvious reasons were that a corporation could not be either arrested or compelled to remain present during criminal proceedings; and neither it could form the required intent to commit a crime, owing to the absence of mind.

However, over the course of time, the concept of corporate criminal responsibility evolved to the extent that the non-liability of a corporation soon gave way to the idea that it can be made liable for omission to act. The corporation or body incorporated can be convicted for a statutory offence, if a statutory duty cast upon the corporation or a body corporate is not performed.

A corporation is an abstraction. It has no mind of its own any more than it has a body of its own, its active and directing will must consequently be sought in the person of somebody who for some purposes may be called an agent, but who is really the directing mind and will of the corporation. The Board of directors are brains of a company which is the body and the company can and does only act through them.

There is a case State of Maharastra v. M/s Syndicate Transport AIR 1964 Bom 195. In this case, it was held that the question of whether a corporate body should or should not be liable for criminal action resulting from the acts of some individual must depend on the nature of the offence disclosed by the allegations in the complaint or in the charge sheet, the relative position of the officer or agent vis-à-vis the corporate body and other relevant facts and circumstances which could show that the corporate body, as such, meant or intended to commit that act.

There is another case standard Chartered Bank v. Directorate of Enforcement, a five-judge constitution bench of the apex court reiterated that a corporation or a company, by virtue of sections 2 and 11 of the IPC, is a ‘person’ and it, theoretically, can be prosecuted for an offence punishable under law. The apex court ruled that there is no immunity to a company or corporation from prosecution mainly because the prosecution is in respect of offences for which the punishment prescribed is mandatory corporeal punishment. The court stressed that a company or corporation should not be allowed to go scot-free merely on the ground that it technically cannot be punished by way of imprisonment. The apex court ruled that a company or corporation can be charged with offence punishable by mandatory fine and imprisonment, but the punishment can only be limited to a fine. The judgement of the case is that in the present matter the legislative intent to prosecute corporate bodies for the offence committed by them is clear and explicit and the statute never intended to exonerate them from being prosecuted. According to them, it would be sheer violence to common sense that the legislature intended to punish the corporate bodies for minor and silly offences and extend immunity of prosecution to major and grave economic crimes.

Thus, after this case, the current position is that corporations can no longer claim immunity from criminal prosecution on the grounds that they are incapable of possessing the necessary mens rea for the commission of criminal offences. The notion that a corporation cannot be held liable for the commission of a crime had been rejected.

This is the case about the criminal liability of the Corporation, and this is the brief of the criminal liability of the corporation and persons whether individual or joint liability.


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