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Accessories and Abettors Act 1861

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Citation  24 & 25 Vict. c.94
Commencement  1 November 1861
Royal assent  6 August 1861
Accessories and Abettors Act 1861
Long title  An Act to consolidate and amend the Statute Law of England and Ireland relating to Accessories to and Abettors of indictable Offences.
Territorial extent  England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland

The Accessories and Abettors Act 1861 (24 & 25 Vict. c.94) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was). It consolidated provisions in English criminal law related to accomplices from a number of earlier statutes into a single Act. For the most part these provisions were, according to the draftsman of the Act, incorporated with little or no variation in their phraseology. It is one of a group of Acts sometimes referred to as the criminal law consolidation Acts 1861. It was passed with the object of simplifying the law. It collects the scattered provisions on the subject contained in Peel's Acts (and the equivalent Irish Acts), incorporating subsequent statutes.


Provisions still in force

The Act provides that an accessory to an indictable offence shall be treated in the same way as if he had committed the offence himself.

Section 8 of the Act, as amended, reads:

Whosoever shall aid, abet, counsel, or procure the commission of any indictable offence, whether the same be an offence at common law or by virtue of any Act passed or to be passed, shall be liable to be tried, indicted, and punished as a principal offender.

Section 10 states that the Act does not apply to Scotland.

The rest of the Act was repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967 as a consequence of the abolition of the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours (see below).

Case law

In AG's Reference (No 1 of 1975) (1975) QB 773, Lord Chief Justice Widgery stated that the words in section 8 should be given their ordinary meaning.

  • The natural meaning of "to aid" is to "give help, support or assistance to" and it will generally although not necessarily take place at the scene of the crime. It is not necessary to prove that there was any agreement between the principal and the alleged accessory, nor is there a need to prove a causative link between the aid and the commission of the offence by the principal.
  • The natural meaning of "to abet" is "to incite, instigate or encourage" and this can only be committed by an accessory who is present when the crime is committed. This does imply either an express or implied agreement between the parties although there is no need to prove any causative link between what the abettor did and the commission of the offence.
  • "To counsel" is "to encourage" and most usually covers advice, information, encouragement or the supply of equipment before the commission of a crime. It implies agreement with the principal. In R v Clarkson (1971) 3 AER 344, the defendant merely watched while fellow soldiers raped a woman in their barracks in Germany. Counselling or advising must have an effect on the mind of the principal to constitute the necessary encouragement in fact, so Clarkson was found not guilty. No causative link between the counselling and the commission of the full offence is required so long as the offence committed was within the scope of the counselling. In R v Calhaem (1985) 2 AER 266, the defendant paid a private detective to murder a woman and was charged with counselling or procuring the murder. It was held that the offence committed must be within the scope of the counselling, i.e., the principal does not deliberately depart from the plan. The detective merely intended to frighten the woman but hit her with a hammer. If, however, the accessory does not specify what offence is to be committed, but leaves it to the principal to decide what offence is to be committed, the accessory will be liable.
  • "To procure" means "to produce by endeavour, by setting out to see that it happens and taking the appropriate steps to produce that happening". The principal can be entirely "innocent" of the procurer's acts so long as there is proof of a causal link between the procuring and the commission of the offence by the principal offender, e.g., as in AG’s Reference (No 1) (1975) 2 AER 684, spiking a drink procures a drunk-driving offence.
  • Summary offences

    The Act does not apply to summary offences, but section 44(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 is to the like effect:

    A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission by another person of a summary offence shall be guilty of the like offence...


    Sections 1 to 7 and 9 of this Act were repealed for England and Wales by section 10(2) of, and Part III of Schedule 3 to, the Criminal Law Act 1967. They were repealed for Northern Ireland by section 15(2) of, and Part II of Schedule 2 to, the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.

    Section 11 was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1892.


    Accessories and Abettors Act 1861 Wikipedia

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