Introduction to Extending Criminal Liability

From Uni Study Guides
Jump to: navigation, search

Complicity is a doctrine which extends liability to a party who did not perform the actus reus of the crime. This article deals with two of the doctrines of complicity: joint criminal enterprise and extended joint criminal enterprise.

This article is a topic within the subject Criminal Laws.


Required Reading

Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in New South Wales, (5th edition, Federation Press, 2011), pp. 985-986.


[1] Most crimes are committed by a group of people, different people of which have different amounts of participation/responsibility. Accordingly, the criminal law has different doctrine to recognise and attribute criminal responsibility when a crime is the result of a group activity.

  • These are known as ‘complicity law’ and provide a basis of criminal liability of a person by reference to their association with a crime committed by someone else.
  • For some offences (eg, conspiracy) association alone is enough for to make a person guilty of an offence, because of the risk that individuals will engage in future criminal activity.
  • Offences based on mere association without any requirement to prove a specific criminal offence has been committed or even planned (eg, consorting with known criminals) are even more controversial offences.


[2] “Complicity” is not an offence as such, it refers to a set of principles which extend liability from a person/s who actually committed the actus reus to others who were in some way a part of the crime but did not actually carry out the actus reus. Complicity exists in three circumstances:

  1. Joint criminal enterprise: this is where two or more persons agreed to commit the offence, which was then carried out by only some of the persons.
    • All will be held equally responsible for the actions of the others, as 'principals in the first degree'.
    • Sometimes referred to as “acting in concert”.
  2. Extended joint criminal enterprise: this is where there was a joint criminal enterprise to commit an offence, and during that commission, one person commits an additional crime which was not agreed upon.
    • The others may nevertheless be held liable for the other crime if they contemplated that such a result might possibly occur.
  3. Accessorial liability: this is either where a person provides assistance or encouragement before the crime ('accessory before the fact') or a person who provides assistance or encouragement at the scene of the crime ('principal in the second degree').
    • This results in derivative liability, meaning that they will only be liable if the primary offender is found guilty.

In each of these circumstances a different set of rules applies, although they are seemingly overlapping and are very confusing. Click on the links for further information.


This is the end of this topic. Click here to go back to the main subject page for Criminal Laws.


Textbook refers to Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in New South Wales, (5th edition, Federation Press, 2011).

  1. Textbook, pp. 985.
  2. Textbook, pp. 985-6.
Personal tools