Mens rea for secondary participation

There must be an intention by the secondary party to 'aid, abet, counsel or procure' the commission of the main offence.

The secondary party does not need to be aware of all the details of the type of crime, the fact that they have knowledge of the type of crime is sufficient. In Bainbridge (1959) the defendant supplied oxygen-cutting equipment used to carry out a crime, he was charged as an accessory. He argued that he did not know the what the equipment was going to be used for. He said he thought something illegal was going on, but the tools he had provided would only be used to break up some of the stolen goods. His appeal was rejected because the Court of Appeal considered that he was aware of the type of crime even if he did not know the full details.

It may be enough to know that one of a range of offences is going to be committed. In DPP for Northern Ireland v Maxwell (1979) the defendant was a local man and a member of a prohibited terrorist group. He guided the principal offender to a public house which was owned by a Catholic. The defendant realised that the principal had the intention of either shooting someone or planting a bomb at the pub. The principal's intention was to plant a bomb which he did. The defendant was guilty of this act, had the principal shot and killed someone he would have been guilty of murder. The court held that the offence committed by the principal offender must be one of a number of crimes “within the contemplation of the accomplice”.

Contemplation or foresight that a certain type of offence might be committed by the principal is sufficient. The principle established in Chan Wing-Siu (1985) is that a secondary party is criminally liable for acts of a type by the primary offender, which the former foresees as a possible outcome even if it is not what the secondary party intended. 


If the principal offender committed a fundamentally different act the secondary party would not be liable. In English (1997) he and another man agreed to attack a police officer with wooden posts. The other man used a knife in the attack and stabbed the officer to death, it was agreed that it was possible that English had not known that the other man was carrying a knife.  English was said not to be a secondary party to the murder.

Secondary liability gives the prosecution the opportunity to proceed against the principal offender who committed the crime and against others who were involved in the commission of the offence. Secondary liability is a common law doctrine.

Principal Offender; Secondary Party; Joint Principals; Actus Reus For Secondary Participation

Law report: Foresight sufficient to make secondary party liable 

The current law and criticism of the doctrine

Man fined £2,000 for aiding and abetting illegal cockling in Dee

Related Items

The items below list this as being related in some way.

Amazon's recommended Books

RSS Feeds