Written By: Priya Darshini.

Edited By: Maryam Sana.


Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea[1]

            This is a very well-known Latin Maxim which translates to “The Act must be accompanied by the Intent to have constituted a crime”. In simple terms, an act was done by a person, unless concurred with intent, will not be considered a crime. The presence of a guilty mind and conscience is necessary to be convicted. In the words of Sir Stephen, “A crime is an act or an omission in respect of which legal punishment may be inflicted on the person who is in default either by acting or omitting to act”. From this, we can conclude that a crime is a stunt that is entirely or partially forbidden by the law and also conflicting with society’s moral sentiments and beliefs.

The basic principle of Criminal Justice emphasises that two elements aid in the composition of a crime. A Criminal Act and Criminal Intent are those two aiding elements. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, neither an act solely nor the sole intent can be presumed to be sufficient for constituting a crime. The legal term for the act is “Actus Reus”, and the corresponding period for Criminal Intent is “Mens Rea”.

 “An act solely does not make the doer guilty, unless and until the mind is found to be guilty.”

This is an old Legal Axiom which specifies that the intention should be criminal for the constitution of a crime. It is also considered futile for the state to attempt to punish individuals merely for the presence of the intent to commit a crime, which is impossible to be determined with utmost certainty unless confessed by the accused himself.


Mens Rea, in simple terms, is the presence of an intention to convene a wrongful act with full knowledge of the negative consequences. The company of a Mens Rea is considered to be one of the most crucial elements in a crime. Mens Rea includes both the intention to commit a crime and the act of abstaining from committing it whenever required. The accused is guilty if proved of his (or) intent to commit the crime. But the burden of proof falls on the prosecution, and the presence of sufficient and convincing evidence is demanded to prove the existence of intent. In one instance, the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that the plan will be confirmed only from how the individual conducts. It also emphasised that focus should also be directed towards the probable effect and consequences of the act committed. It also held that knowledge of the event is a quintessential thing to constitute an offence under Section 307 IPC, which talks about the various punishments for murder and homicide.


One of the most controversial cases in the history of Indian Law, regarding the concept of Mens Rea and Actus Reus, is the Queen Empress Vs. Khandu Valad Bhavani case of 1890[2]. The judgement delivered in this case cleared the air concerning the presence of Intent and Acted to constitute a crime. A three judged bench presided over this case. Justice Charles Sargent, Justice Birdwood and Justice Parsons delivered this landmark judgement. The accused in this case, Khandu Valad Bhavani, was brought to the court with the charges of murdering his Father- In- Law. Khandu’s wife had abandoned him and left for her father’s place due to some internal issues. This is reported to have happened numerous times, and every time, his wife would return within a few days. Since Khandu found his wife hadn’t returned even after one week of deserting him, he left for his father-in-law’s house to bring her back. According to Khandu’s testimony, his father-in-law had assaulted him when he tried to get his wife back. Enraged, he returned to his hometown and swore to kill his father-in-law for insulting him. When he met with his father-in-law, Khandu gave him three blows on his back with utmost force. He saw his father-in-law collapse in front of his eyes. And to destroy the evidence, he placed logs of wood on him and burnt the entire place down. The whole area was reduced to ashes, and Khandu was charged with murder under Section 302 of The Indian Penal Code. This judgement was challenged in the Bombay HC, and the defence attorney placed his arguments concerning the connection between Mens Rea and Actus Reus. He defended him by stating that the blows given by Khandu weren’t proven to be fatal for his father-in-law. The impacts just put him in an unconscious state, and unaware of this fact, Khandu had burnt the entire place down. Since his father-in-law’s death was not due to the blows, he pleaded Khandu to be declared as not guilty.

To arrive at a proper and just decision, we need to ponder upon a few questions that might give this case more clarity. To conclude, first, it needs to be decided if Actus Reus and Mens Rea are present in the given situation. We also need to analyse if the blows combined with the flaming of the place accelerated the death of his Father- In- Law and if Khandu had prior knowledge of his Father- In- Law being alive before torching the entire place. Analysing all these essential questions, the three judged bench decided in 1891.


After analysing all the possible questions, the three-judge bench unanimously held that the accused person’s three blows to his Father- In- Law did not prove to be fatal for the deceased. They also mentioned that in no way did the burning down of the house aid in the acceleration of death for him since he would’ve died either way with the blows to his head. The crucial point of consideration was made for that fact that Khandu had the intent to kill his Father- In- Law, but he was alive even after receiving the blows, the act of burning the place down was done only for the sole reason of destroying the evidence and not for killing his Father- In- Law. Justice Charles Sargent held that for charging an individual under Section 299, which talks about culpable homicide, one needs to take responsibility for both intention and the act which leads to death. Contrary to that, there is only the presence of choice found in this case, and although the action resulted in death, it was not a part of the accused’s knowledge before committing this crime. So keeping this in mind, Khandu Valad Bhavani was charged with guilt for attempting to murder. He was charged under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, which provides punishment for an attempt to murder someone. From this, we can conclude that the presence of both Actus Reus and Mens Rea is necessary to convict an individual for a crime they had committed. The company of either one of them solely is not sufficient to facilitate the conviction.

[1] Cheong, Chan Wing, The Requirement of Concurrence of ‘Actus Reus’ and ‘Mens Rea’ in Homicide: Shaiful Edham Bin Adam v PP, 75 – 91, Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 2000.

[2] The Queen Empress Vs. Khandu Valad Bhavani, 1891, ILR BOM 194.

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