Define: Positive Act

Positive Act
Positive Act
Quick Summary of Positive Act

A positive act is an intentional and open action done with good intentions that has a positive impact on others or the world around us. It is the opposite of a negative act, which is harmful or hurtful. Examples of positive acts include helping someone in need, volunteering, or simply being kind to others.

What is the dictionary definition of Positive Act?
Dictionary Definition of Positive Act

A positive act refers to an intentional and purposeful action that is done with a positive intention. For instance, assisting an elderly person in crossing the street is considered a positive act. This act is performed to make the elderly person’s life easier and is an example of a helpful and kind action. Another example of a positive act is donating money to a charity. This act is done to help others and make a positive impact on the world. It is a selfless and generous action.

Full Definition Of Positive Act

The concept of a “Positive Act” plays a significant role in the legal systems of many jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. It refers to an intentional action taken by an individual that results in certain legal consequences, as opposed to omissions or failures to act. Understanding positive acts is crucial in various areas of law, including criminal law, tort law, and human rights law. This overview will delve into the definition, legal significance, applications, and implications of positive acts within the British legal system.

Definition and Scope

A positive act is an action that is performed consciously and voluntarily, leading to a particular outcome. It contrasts with omissions, where the legal focus is on the failure to act rather than an active intervention. In the context of British law, positive acts can be seen in different branches, such as criminal law where they often form the basis of offences, or tort law where they may constitute the basis for liability.

Criminal Law

In criminal law, positive acts are fundamental in establishing liability for various offences. A defendant must have performed an act that constitutes the criminal offence, along with the requisite mental state (mens rea). For example, in a case of assault, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intentionally or recklessly applied force to another person.

Case Example: R v. Cunningham (1957)

In R v. Cunningham, the defendant was found guilty of maliciously administering a noxious substance to another person. The court held that the act of tearing a gas meter from the wall, which led to gas escaping and harming the victim, constituted a positive act. This case illustrates how positive acts are integral in determining criminal liability.

Tort Law

Positive acts in tort law are actions that result in harm or loss to another party, thereby giving rise to a claim for damages. The most common torts involving positive acts are trespass, assault, and negligence.

Case Example: Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932)

In Donoghue v. Stevenson, the defendant’s act of manufacturing a contaminated ginger beer bottle led to the claimant suffering illness. This landmark case established the modern law of negligence, demonstrating how positive acts form the basis of tortious liability.

Legal Significance

The distinction between positive acts and omissions is crucial in law because it influences the establishment of liability and the applicable legal standards. Positive acts generally impose a higher likelihood of liability as they demonstrate clear and intentional conduct.

Criminal Liability

In criminal law, the significance of a positive act lies in its necessity to prove the actus reus (guilty act). Without establishing that the defendant performed a positive act that constitutes a crime, a prosecution cannot succeed. This requirement ensures that individuals are only held accountable for actions they have actively undertaken.

Tortious Liability

In tort law, positive acts are significant in establishing a duty of care and breach of that duty. When a defendant’s positive act causes harm, it is easier for the claimant to prove the existence of a breach compared to omissions, where the duty to act must be established.

Applications in Specific Areas of Law

Positive acts have diverse applications across different areas of British law. Below are some specific applications in criminal law, tort law, and human rights law.

Criminal Law

Positive acts are essential in defining various criminal offences. For example:

  1. Assault and Battery: The act of physically striking someone constitutes a positive act.
  2. Theft: The act of taking someone else’s property is a positive act that leads to criminal liability.
  3. Homicide: The act of causing the death of another person through a positive act like stabbing or shooting.

Tort Law

In tort law, positive acts are involved in:

  1. Negligence: Acts that breach a duty of care and cause harm.
  2. Trespass to Land: Entering someone else’s property without permission.
  3. Defamation: Making a false statement that damages someone’s reputation.

Human Rights Law

Positive acts also have implications in human rights law, particularly regarding the state’s duty to protect the rights of individuals.

Positive Obligations

Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the UK is a signatory, states have positive obligations to ensure the protection of certain rights. For instance, under Article 2 (right to life), the state must take active measures to protect individuals from threats to their lives, which includes acts like ensuring proper regulation of hazardous industries or protecting individuals from known threats.

Implications of Positive Acts

Understanding positive acts is crucial for both legal practitioners and individuals. The implications of positive acts extend to how laws are enforced, how legal defences are structured, and how individuals and organisations operate within legal boundaries.

Enforcement of Laws

Law enforcement agencies rely on the concept of positive acts to establish grounds for arrest and prosecution. By clearly identifying the actions that constitute offences, law enforcement can more effectively target and reduce criminal behaviour.

Legal Defences

The identification of a positive act also influences the available defences in legal proceedings. For instance, in criminal law, defences like self-defence or necessity are structured around the nature of the positive act. Similarly, in tort law, contributory negligence or consent may be relevant defences, depending on the nature of the act.

Operational Practices

For businesses and organisations, understanding the implications of positive acts is essential for compliance and risk management. Companies must ensure that their operations do not involve positive acts that could lead to legal liability, such as breaches of health and safety regulations or acts of discrimination.

Case Law Analysis

To further illustrate the role and implications of positive acts in British law, it is useful to analyse key case law where positive acts were central to the legal outcomes.

Criminal Law: R v. Pagett (1983)

In R v. Pagett, the defendant used his pregnant girlfriend as a human shield while firing at police officers. The police returned fire, resulting in the girlfriend’s death. The court held that Pagett’s act of using his girlfriend as a shield was a positive act that led to her death, establishing his liability for manslaughter.

Tort Law: Rylands v. Fletcher (1868)

In Rylands v. Fletcher, the defendant constructed a reservoir on his land, which subsequently burst and flooded the claimant’s mine. The court held that the defendant’s act of building and maintaining the reservoir constituted a positive act, making him liable for the damage under the principle of strict liability.

Human Rights Law: Osman v. United Kingdom (1998)

In Osman v. United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights held that the UK had violated Article 2 of the ECHR by failing to take positive steps to protect the lives of the Osman family despite being aware of a real and immediate threat from a third party. This case highlights the state’s positive obligations to act in the protection of human rights.

Challenges and Criticisms

While the concept of positive acts is well-established, it is not without challenges and criticisms. Some of these include:

Distinguishing Acts from Omissions

One of the significant challenges is distinguishing between positive acts and omissions, particularly in complex cases where the line between action and inaction is blurred. This distinction is crucial as it affects the determination of liability.

Legal and Moral Responsibility

There is ongoing debate regarding the extent to which individuals and entities should be held accountable for positive acts versus omissions. Some argue that moral responsibility should equally apply to omissions that result in harm, while others contend that only active conduct should incur liability.

Policy Implications

The emphasis on positive acts has policy implications, especially in regulatory frameworks. Policymakers must balance the need to deter harmful actions with the need to avoid over-regulating or unduly burdening individuals and businesses.


Positive acts form a cornerstone of legal liability in British law, encompassing a wide range of actions across criminal, tort, and human rights law. Understanding the nature, significance, and implications of positive acts is essential for legal practitioners, lawmakers, and individuals alike. While challenges and debates persist, the established framework for positive acts ensures a structured approach to determining liability and upholding legal and moral standards within society.

The evolution of case law and statutory provisions continues to shape the application and interpretation of positive acts, reflecting the dynamic nature of the legal landscape. As legal principles develop, the concept of positive acts will undoubtedly remain a fundamental aspect of British law, guiding the adjudication of justice and the protection of rights and responsibilities.

Positive Act FAQ'S

A positive act refers to an intentional action taken by an individual that results in a specific outcome or consequence. It is an act that is done willingly and purposefully.

Yes, a positive act can be considered a crime if it violates a specific law or regulation. For example, if someone intentionally causes harm to another person, it can be considered a positive act and may be classified as assault or battery.

No, positive acts are not always illegal. Many positive acts are lawful and necessary for the functioning of society. For instance, providing medical assistance to someone in need or helping someone in danger are positive acts that are generally encouraged and protected by the law.

Yes, a positive act can be used as a defence in certain legal cases. For example, if someone is accused of trespassing on another person’s property, they may argue that they were performing a positive act, such as rescuing a lost pet, which justifies their presence on the property.

Yes, a positive act can be considered negligence if it fails to meet the standard of care expected in a particular situation. For instance, if a doctor performs a surgery without following proper medical protocols, resulting in harm to the patient, it can be considered a positive act of negligence.

Yes, positive acts are always intentional. They involve a conscious decision and purposeful action by an individual. However, the intention behind the act may vary, and it can be either positive or negative.

Yes, a positive act can be considered self-defence if it is done to protect oneself or others from imminent harm or danger. For example, if someone physically attacks another person, and the victim responds by using reasonable force to defend themselves, it can be considered a positive act of self-defence.

Yes, a positive act can be considered a breach of contract if it violates the terms and conditions agreed upon in a legally binding agreement. For instance, if a party fails to deliver goods or services as promised in a contract, it can be considered a positive act of breaching the contract.

Yes, a positive act can be considered discrimination if it involves treating someone unfairly or differently based on their protected characteristics, such as race, gender, or religion. Discrimination can occur through both positive acts and omissions.

Yes, a positive act can be considered a violation of someone’s rights if it infringes upon their legally protected rights. For example, if a government agency conducts an unwarranted search of an individual’s property, it can be considered a positive act that violates their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

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.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Positive Act. DLS Solicitors. June 16 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Positive Act. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 16 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Positive Act. Retrieved June 16 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts