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...   Grand Master - ,  10:36 am On 10 Oct 2017

Once there is a legal duty to an act, failure to do it becomes an offence. This statement underlines the concept of criminal omission.


An omission is a failure to act, where there is a legal duty to act.

The law does not only punish a person for doing what he is not supposed to do, the punitive hands of the law is also upon that man who knows what he is supposed to do and does it not.

An example is where a parent or guardian omits to provide their child or ward with food or other necessities, which results in the child's death, the punitive hand of the law is on them for failing in their legal responsibility.


A thick line is drawn between what morality dictates and what the law dictates.

Failing in a moral duty may be a sin but it is most definitely not a crime. The law does punish a man for failing in his moral obligations towards another; for an omission to become an offence what the accused has omitted to do must be something required of him by law.

For instance, morality dictates that if I see a person drowning, that I should dive in to save his life if I am an expert swimmer; however, I may rather choose to cross my leg and enjoy the scenery, and watch as the person drowns, gasping for breadth
making desperate plea for help, and I do nothing, my conscience condemns me but the law does not.

When my duty supersedes a mere moral obligation, the law condemns me; when the duty is a legal duty. Taking the
scenario above, if my job is to save people from drowning (i.e lifeguard), supposed it happens in a pool where I am employed, then the law condemns me, as the duty is now a legal one. see R v. Dytham (1979) QB 722

This legal duty may be imposed by statute, by contract or implied by court.

For instance, the Children and Young Persons Act 1993 imposes a legal duty on parents or anyone standing in loco parentis to feed and provide medical care for their ward, and makes neglecting a child an offence. There is also a legal duty to take care on aged members of the family, once a relationship of reliance is established. R v. Stone and Dobinson (1977)

Also, the Road Traffic Act imposes on motorist the duty of reporting road accidents to the police.

Legal duty could be imposed by contract- see R v. Pithwood (1902) and R v. Benge (1865).

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