Joint principals

In criminal law there is a possibility that more than one person is directly responsible for the actus reus.

In cases where more than one person may be directly responsible for the actus reus there may be more than one principal, they are known as joint principals or co-principals.

If each of the defendants had the relevant mens rea and they all participated in the actions which caused the offence they would be joint principals. This would be the case if two defendants stabbed a victim to death and it was not possible to tell who was responsible for the fatal wound. In such a situation both defendants would be charged as joint principals.

The case of Tyler v Whatmore (1976) involved a driving offence when one defendant was reaching across and steering the car while the other defendant was operating the foot controls and changing gear, both defendants were responsible for driving, they were both principal offenders and they were both convicted for driving without due care and attention.

In cases where each person has performed all the elements of the offence in his own right there will be no real problem in ascertaining liability.

In cases where there is uncertainty regarding the action of the second person and determining whether that person is a joint principal or merely assisting the question will be asked as to whether the defendant contributed to the actus reus by his own actions and not simply aiding or abetting.


Principal Offender



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