Thursday, May 04, 2006

Inchoate offences and the scope of mens rea

We have already noted the Supreme Court’s decision in L v R (see blog for 3 April 2006), in which the mental elements of an attempt to commit an offence that could be committed recklessly were held to include the same recklessness. Yesterday, the House of Lords reached a different conclusion in R v Saik [2006] UKHL 18 (3 May 2006), which concerned the statutory definition of "conspiracy". Both attempts and conspiracies are what is called inchoate offences: they are, in this sense, uncompleted substantive offences.

It is interesting to observe that legislatures can differ on what sort of behaviour, preliminary to the commission of a substantive offence, they consider appropriate to criminalise, and they can also differ on how precisely they wish to indicate the scope of proscribed behaviour.

Under English law, money laundering (the relevant substantive offence in Saik) can be committed knowingly, or by having reasonable grounds to suspect, in relation to the fact that the money or property is the proceeds of criminal conduct. The New Zealand definition of money laundering is broadly similar in these respects; both the Crimes Act 1961 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 contain laundering offences, and the relevant state of mind is knowing, believing, or being reckless as to the money or property being proceeds of a serious offence.

There is, obviously, a difference, in that the English provision encompasses having reasonable grounds to suspect, whereas in New Zealand the scope does not extend beyond recklessness.

The material difference for present purposes is in the definitions of the inchoate offences. The English statutory conspiracy is defined in s 1(1) and (2) of the Criminal Law Act 1977[UK], and, significantly, s 1(2), as interpreted in Saik, requires that, in relation to essential circumstances that need not be known for liability for the full offence, the accused must intend or know of them for liability to arise for the conspiracy. Thus, for conspiring to launder property, where the full offence does not require knowledge that the property is proceeds of criminal conduct (reasonable grounds to suspect being sufficient), the consequence of the Saik interpretation of s 1(2) is that conspiring to launder property requires proof that the accused knew or believed that the property was proceeds of criminal conduct.

In New Zealand, the crime of attempting to commit an offence is defined in s 72 of the Crimes Act 1961, which requires an "intent to commit an offence". In L v R this was interpreted to mean, for attempted sexual violation, intention to penetrate (or, in the peculiar circumstances of that case, an intention that penetration should occur), and recklessness as to whether the victim consented. The policy applied in L has thus, from this point of view, resulted in expansion of the meaning of "intent" in s 72.

In summary, the UK Parliament defined conspiracy narrowly, and the Court declined to interpret the definition in a way that would have extended it, whereas the New Zealand Parliament defined attempt without specifying whether it should be construed widely or narrowly, and the Court chose a wide interpretation.

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