Importance and Exceptions of Mens Rea

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

In this article we would be discussing Mens Rea, the second element, which is an important essential of a crime, mens rea or guilty mind. It is a necessary element; the criminal act must be voluntary or purposeful. Mens rea is the mental intention (mental fault), or the accused’s state of mind at the time of the offense, called the guilty mind. it is what was the accused’s mental state and what did the accused intend when the crime was committed. The mental element or mens rea in modern times means that the person’s conduct must be voluntary and it must also be actuated by a guilty mind.

In the entire field of criminal law, there is no more important doctrine than that of mens rea. It stems from the ancient maxim of obscure origin, “actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means “the act is not guilty unless the mind is guilty.” mens rea is the state of mind indicating culpability, which is required by statute as an element of a crime. It is commonly taken to mean some blameworthy mental condition, whether constituted by intention or knowledge or otherwise, the absence of which on any particular occasion negatives the intention of a crime.

It is also one of the essential ingredients of criminal liability (certain exceptions are there) As a general rule (exceptions are there) every crime requires a mental element, the nature of which will depend upon the definition of the crime in question. Even in crimes of strict liability some mental element is required. Because of the potentially severe consequences of a criminal conviction, judges at common law also sought proof of an intent to do some bad thing, the mens rea or guilty mind.

There are different Expressions used in IPC Expressions used in different sections of IPC connoting the requirement of a mental element include: intentionally, knowingly, with intent, recklessly, unlawfully, maliciously, wilfully, knowing or believing, fraudulently, dishonestly, corruptly, allowing, and permitting. Each of these expressions is capable of bearing a meaning, which differs from that ascribed to any other. The meaning of each must be determined in the context in which it appears, and the same expression may bear a different meaning in different contexts.

Almost all offences require mens rea under the IPC, guilt in respect of almost all offences is fastened either on the ground of intention or knowledge or reason to believe. All the offences under the Code are qualified by one or the other words such as wrongful gain or wrongful loss, dishonestly, fraudulently, the reason to believe, criminal knowledge or intention, intentional co-operation, voluntarily, malignantly, wantonly, etc. All these words describe the mental condition required at the time of the commission of the offence, in order to constitute an offence.

Thus, though the word mens rea as such is nowhere found in the IPC, its essence is reflected in almost all the provisions of the code. The existence of the mental element or guilty mind or mens rea at the time of the commission of the actus reus or the act alone will make the act an offence.  As to crimes of which both actus reus and mens rea are the requirements or we can say are essential, judges have concluded that the elements must be present at precisely the same moment and it is not enough that they occurred sequentially at different times.

Generally, subject to both qualification and exception, a person is not criminally liable for a crime unless he intends to cause, foresees that he will probably cause, or at the lowest, foresees that he may cause, the elements which constitute the crime in question. it is impossible to ascribe any particular meaning to the term mens rea, concepts such as those of intention, recklessness and knowledge are commonly used as the basis for criminal liability. Mens rea allows the criminal justice system to differentiate between someone who did not mean to commit a crime and someone who intentionally set out to commit a crime.

Factors examined to establish mens rea, the act can be done voluntarily or involuntarily, and the guilt is determined by the facts of the case. Mens Rea as such is not punishable. There are some of the factors are examined to establish Mens Rea: Previous relation between the accused and the victim, any object of hostility between them. Existence of instigation i.e., whether the accused was hired and what prompted him to commit the crime. Whether the accused had something to gain out of the whole affair. Illustration: A person drives under influence of intoxication and causes an accident that harms others. He will be held responsible for his actions as he voluntarily made a choice to drink and drive, even if the crime itself was unintentional.

 There are many exceptional cases where mens rea is not required in criminal law. Some of them are as follows:

Where a statute imposes liability, the presence or absence of a guilty mind is irrelevant. Many laws passed in the interest of public safety and social welfare impose absolute liability. This is so in matters concerning public health, food, drugs, etc. There is an absolute liability (mens rea is not essential) in the licensing of shops, hotels, restaurants, and chemist’s establishments. The same is true of cases under the Motor Vehicles Act and the Arms Act. Where it is difficult to prove mens rea and penalties are petty fines. In such petty cases, speedy disposal of cases is necessary and the proving of mens rea is not easy. An accused may be fined even without any proof of mens rea.

In the interest of public safety, strict liability is imposed and whether a person causes public nuisance with a guilty mind or without a guilty mind, If a person violates a law even without the knowledge of the existence of the law, it can still be said that he has committed an act which is prohibited by law. In such cases, the fact that he was not aware of the law and hence did not intend to violate it is no defense and he would be liable as if he was aware of the law. This follows from the maxim ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse. These are some of the exceptions.

At last, there are degrees of Mens Rea which are Intention: Complete knowledge of harm and its consequences. Knowledge: No intention, but knowledge of an apparent harm, Reason to Believe: No particular information, but some reason to believe of the consequences of the act, Recklessness: A higher degree of negligence, aware of consequences and Negligence: Not aware of consequences.

Mens rea is one the most important and essential elements of crime on which the degree of the crime is being defined and the guilty mind as well.


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