Liability of an accessory for offences:









Date of submission




According to the England and Wales criminal law (Criminal Law Act 1977), an accessory is any person who assists in the performance or commission of criminal activity. However, the person does not participate in the actual performance of the crime as a joint principal. On the other hand, the principal is the person who actually committed the crime. Legally, a principal is usually accompanied by a guilty mind in committing the guilty act. Hence, the most important thing is to distinguish the principal from an accessory. The court will determine whether the defendant contributed independently in causing the guilty act or the defendant caused the guilty act through giving generalized or limited help. The law requires that any person who assists in any way or form towards the performance of any indictable offence shall be liable to be indicted or punished under the law as a principal offender. This is explained in the case of R V J.F.Alford Transport Limited (1997) (James Gobert 2003, 79).

Although the liability of an accessory for offences committed by a principal is very useful in practice, the principles of liability are very wide and complex. The complexity arises as a result of the elements which help in distinguishing an accessory from an accomplice. A person who is an accessory to a crime that has been committed by his or her spouse is not charged in most jurisdictions. The exception of not charging a spouse is based on the traditional privilege that a person shall not testify against his or her accused spouse. This results in the complexity in applying the principle of liability of an accessory for an offence (Wendy De Bondt 2012, 104).

Complexity also arises in gathering sufficient information and knowledge to prove that the accused person had actual knowledge and was fully aware that a crime was going to happen. Enough evidence must be gathered to show that the accessory knew that his or her action was helping in committing the crime. The gathering of evidence may be too complicated hence rendering the principle of liability irrelevant. According to criminal law, criminal liability may be charged even before the primary crime has been committed. The law defines a crime as the act of providing or the means or opportunity of committing a crime.

The complexity of the principles of liability is also brought about by the relative severity of penalties. There is no agreed punishment tariff for principals and the accessory. Each jurisdiction is responsible for determining the nature of the punishment tariff that the principal and the accessory will face. The types of assistance are also not the same. An accessory may offer emotional, financial or physical assistance towards the criminal activity. Each jurisdiction will determine the nature of punishment for the types of assistance. The issues discussed result in undue complexity and a lack of clarity about the principles that ought to be followed for offences committed by a principal (Great Britain: Law Commission 2006, 14).





Great Britain: Law Commission. Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime. London: The Stationery Office, 2006.

James Gobert, Maurice Punch. Rethinking Corporate Crime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Wendy De Bondt, C. Ryckman, Gert Vermeulen. Liability of Legal Persons for Offences in the EU. Antwerpen: Maklu, 2012.





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