Define: Act Of Commission

Act Of Commission
Act Of Commission
Quick Summary of Act Of Commission

A voluntary action or deed performed by a person that is a result of their exerted will on the external world is known as an act of commission. It can also refer to any event that is under the control of human will. Examples of such actions include signing a contract, hitting someone, or stealing something, which are done intentionally and voluntarily by the person performing them. Acts of commission hold the person responsible for the consequences of their actions, such as the harm caused by hitting someone or fulfilling the terms of a contract after signing it. It is important to note that acts of commission differ from acts of omission, which are failures to act when a person has a legal duty to do so.

What is the dictionary definition of Act Of Commission?
Dictionary Definition of Act Of Commission

An intentional action is referred to as an act of commission, which can be either positive or negative. It is always something that the individual intends to do. For instance, tidying up your room to keep it organised is an act of commission. However, accidentally breaking a vase while playing ball inside the house is not an act of commission since it was not done intentionally.

Full Definition Of Act Of Commission

In legal terms, an “act of commission” refers to a deliberate action that results in a consequence, often involving the violation of a law or duty. This is different from an “act of omission,” where the violation comes from a failure to act. This differentiation is crucial in various fields of law, including criminal law, tort law, and contract law. This overview delves into the concept of an Act of Commission within the framework of British law, exploring its implications, legal principles, and notable case law.

Definition and Scope

An act of commission involves a positive action that infringes upon a legal duty or right. This can include physical acts, spoken words, or written statements. The defining characteristic is the active nature of the conduct, which directly causes harm or breaches a legal obligation.

Criminal Law

Basic Principles

In criminal law, an Act of Commission is foundational. Crimes generally require both a physical act (actus reus) and a mental state (mens rea). The actus reus is often an act of commission. For instance, theft involves the unlawful taking of another’s property, and assault involves the application of force.

Case Law

  1. R v. Cunningham (1957): This case highlighted the necessity of mens rea accompanying the actus reus. Cunningham removed a gas metre to steal money, causing gas to leak and harm a neighbour. His deliberate act of removal was the commission leading to harm, thus fulfilling the actus reus requirement for criminal liability.
  2. R v. Stone and Dobinson (1977): Here, the defendant’s failure to care for an ailing relative resulted in her death. Although primarily a case of omission, the court examined the actions of the defendants to establish a duty of care they actively assumed and subsequently breached.

Statutory Provisions

Acts of commission are encapsulated in numerous statutory provisions, such as the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which details various forms of physical harm inflicted through deliberate actions.

Tort Law

Basic Principles

In tort law, an act of commission refers to actions that cause harm or loss to another party. Torts like negligence, assault, battery, and defamation typically involve acts of commission.


Negligence often involves acts of commission, where the defendant’s actions fall below the standard of care expected, resulting in harm. For instance, a driver running a red light and causing an accident has committed an act of commission.

Case Law

  1. Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932): This landmark case established the modern concept of negligence. The manufacturer’s act of including a decomposed snail in a bottle of ginger beer was an act of commission leading to liability.
  2. Nettleship v. Weston (1971): In this case, a learner driver’s act of commission (driving poorly) resulted in an accident. The court held the learner driver to the standard of a competent driver, emphasising the active nature of the act causing harm.


Defamation, whether libel (written) or slander (spoken), is an act of commission where false statements harm another’s reputation. The Defamation Act 2013 sets the framework for such claims in British law.

Contract Law

Basic Principles

In contract law, an act of commission can involve actions that breach contractual terms. This could include failing to deliver goods or services as agreed or violating specific contractual obligations.

Breach of Contract

A breach of contract often involves an act of commission. For example, delivering substandard goods, providing false information, or prematurely terminating a contract can all be acts of commission leading to legal disputes.

Case Law

  1. Hong Kong Fir Shipping Co Ltd v. Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd (1962): This case involved a breach of contract through the delivery of a defective ship, an act of commission. The court assessed whether the breach deprived the innocent party of substantially the whole benefit of the contract.
  2. Hadley v. Baxendale (1854): Here, the delay in delivering a broken mill shaft, due to negligence, was an act of commission leading to consequential damages. The ruling established the principle for assessing damages based on the foreseeability of the breach’s consequences.

Duty of Care and Breach

Establishing Duty

In both tort and contract law, establishing a duty of care is essential. An act of commission typically breaches this duty when it contravenes the standard expected of a reasonable person or the explicit terms of a contract.

Breach Analysis

To determine a breach, courts examine the nature of the act, the circumstances, and the foreseeable risk of harm. The breach must be causally linked to the harm suffered by the claimant, with the act of commission being the direct cause.


Several defences can mitigate or nullify liability for acts of commission:

  1. Consent: If the claimant consented to the act, liability might be negated. For example, in contact sports, participants consent to a certain level of physical contact.
  2. Self-defence: In criminal law, acts of commission in self-defence may be justified if they are proportionate to the threat faced.
  3. Contributory Negligence: In tort law, if the claimant’s actions contributed to the harm, damages might be reduced accordingly.
  4. Contractual Limitations: In contract law, limitation clauses may restrict liability for certain acts of commission.

Public Policy Considerations

Courts often consider public policy when adjudicating acts of commission. Ensuring that legal standards promote responsible behaviour while not stifling legitimate activities is a delicate balance. For instance, imposing too strict a liability on medical professionals might deter risk-taking in innovative treatments.

International Comparisons

While this overview focuses on British law, it is useful to compare it with other jurisdictions to understand the universal principles and unique differences. For instance, the American legal system similarly distinguishes between acts of commission and omission but may have different approaches to liability and defences.

Reform and Future Directions

Legal doctrines evolve to address new challenges, such as those posed by technology. Acts of commission in cyberspace, like hacking or online defamation, necessitate updated legal frameworks. Ongoing reforms aim to refine definitions, improve clarity in statutory provisions, and ensure justice keeps pace with societal changes.


The concept of an Act of Commission is fundamental in various branches of British law. It delineates the responsibilities and liabilities that arise from positive actions. Through statutory provisions, case law, and judicial principles, the legal system addresses the complexities of such acts, balancing individual accountability with broader societal interests. As the legal landscape evolves, understanding and applying these principles remains crucial for practitioners, policymakers, and the public.

Act Of Commission FAQ'S

An act of commission refers to a deliberate action taken by an individual that results in harm or injury to another person or their property.

Examples of acts of commission include assault, theft, fraud, defamation, and trespassing.

An act of commission involves actively doing something that causes harm, while an act of omission refers to failing to do something that could have prevented harm.

Yes, many acts of commission are considered criminal offenses and can lead to criminal charges and penalties if proven in a court of law.

Yes, an act of commission can also lead to civil liability, where the victim can file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the damages caused.

In criminal cases, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, who must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the burden of proof is lower and requires a preponderance of evidence.

Yes, certain acts of commission may be justified if they were done in self-defence, defence of others, or to prevent a greater harm from occurring.

No, negligence refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care, while an act of commission involves an intentional action. However, an act of commission can still be considered negligent if it falls below the standard of care expected in a particular situation.

Yes, in some cases, the intent to commit harm is enough to establish criminal liability, even if no actual harm was caused.

In some cases, if the defendant can prove that they were mentally incapacitated at the time of the act, it may be used as a defence to reduce or eliminate criminal liability. However, this defence is subject to specific legal requirements and varies depending on jurisdiction.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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