An omission (or failure to act) as a criminal offense

An omission (or failure to act) as a criminal offense

Virtually all crimes involve an act as their core feature. In law, it is quite easy to identify

positive criminal acts committed by specific individuals that damage properties or cause bodily

harm to others. However, it is also possible for an individual to be criminally responsible for an

omission or failure to act. Even though these forms of criminal acts are rare, a significant

number of crimes based on failure to act can be identified. It is important to note that legal

provisions that impose liability for failure to act are typically conduct crimes that penalize

omission itself as opposed to requiring it to have caused any specific harm or damage (Bacigal,

2008). In general, a criminal liability for failure to act involves cases where an individual is

penalized because of causing harm or damage through his omission. There are also common law

cases that put emphasis on the omission itself rather than the harm produced.

For example, in a 1979 case (Dytham 1979 3 AII ER 641, CA), the defendant, a

uniformed cop, was found guilty of misconduct in public office because of failing to act

“…when he saw a man being kicked to death 30 yards away by a night club bouncer,” (Heaton

& Than, 2010). In this case, the police officer was convicted because in law he has a duty to

prevent life and private property without fear or favor. However, the courts found out that his

failure to intervene when he saw the helpless victim being kicked was an omission. In this case,

the police officer was culpable of serious neglect and if the courts had proven his neglect was the

cause of the man’s death, Dytham would have been convicted of manslaughter. For an

individual to be held criminally responsible in cases of omission, s/he must in law have a duty to

do something which in the event it is not done results to harm.


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