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Criminal liability


Criminal liability is a state in which a person is found guilty of an offence.

In order to have criminal liability certain conditions must be satisfied. A person under the age of ten cannot have criminal liability and for most crimes you must have intention to commit the crime or have committed the crime recklessly for a court to hold that you have criminal liability. 

How to prove criminal liability

In order for a judge or jury to find that a person has criminal liability they must satisfy two elements: 

  • The mental element
  • The physical element

The physical element is the actual act of committing the crime, so for theft it would be the stealing of the item. 

The mental element is the intention - in theft you must have been acting dishonestly, if you were not, while you may have some difficulty convincing the relevant authorities of this, you are not guilty of theft. Some offences, such as some motoring offences, have done away with the need for the mental element of a crime to be satisfied.

The burden of proof for criminal liability is beyond reasonable doubt. This means that a judge or jury must be sure that the defendant is guilty before they can convict them. This differs from a civil hearing where the burden of proof is on the balance of probability.

The reason for the difference in burden is that in a criminal trial the defendant risks loss of liberty and being burdened for life with a criminal record. This is not the case in a civil trial.

After proof of criminal liability

Criminal charges are brought against a person when, following investigation of a crime, the police believe they have gathered enough evidence for the suspect to face criminal charges and go to court. 

The Crown Prosecution Service are responsible for prosecuting individuals charged with an offence and they also have responsibility for deciding if a suspect is to be charged (except in cases where the offence is very minor) and if so what the criminal charges will be. 

From when the decision on whether to lay criminal charges is made, the Crown Prosecution Service retains all responsibility for the prosecution, including:

  • Collecting the evidence on which the prosecution intend to rely
  • Presenting the evidence to the court

In deciding whether a person should be prosecuted, the Criminal Prosecution Service must consider whether there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and consider whether it is in the public interest for a prosecution to be brought. 

In some circumstances the police will be responsible for deciding if the suspect is to be charged, but this is likely to be the case only in the event that the charge is minor and the suspect is likely to enter an early guilty plea.

When a suspect is charged at the police station, the suspect should be:

  • Cautioned on charge
  • Given a written charge sheet which gives the particulars of the offence

Following criminal charges being brought, a suspect cannot be interviewed further by police except in a few specified circumstances. If you are being pursued by the police, at any stage of the arrest process, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice.

Without legal representation you could be facing higher penalties or more prison time. 

For more information on how the criminal process works, see our page on criminal cases.

Have you been accused of a crime which you wish to appeal with representation? Contact Law can recommend specialist criminal solicitors who can represent your best interests to increase the chances of a lesser sentence. Please call us on 0800 046 1464 or complete the web-form above.

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