The concept of criminal partnership or criminal complicity as principal or accessory comprehends a common criminal purpose and the commission of physical acts. Is it possible then, to be liable as a principal or accessory in a crime of omission? Yes, it is possible. It is an exception to the general rule requiring physical acts.
This kind of criminal partnership requires specific factual circumstances. First, there must be a duty imposed by law upon the principal to act in a particular way. Second, the principal failed or refused to act as he is required by law. Third, the accessory aided, assisted, abetted or encouraged him in his omission. Fourth, the omission is defined by law to be a crime.
One example of a criminal partnership in a crime of omission is criminal neglect of a minor child.
First, the law imposes a duty on parents of a child to take good care of their child: provide the child with food, clothing and shelter. The law also requires a duty for parents to protect their child from harm.
Second, the father punished his children constantly for usual childish misbehaviour by spanking them, tying them to chairs in a locked basement without any light and depriving them of food for hours at a stretch. Third, the mother knows of her husband’s neglect. She is not under any threat of domestic violence from her husband. She allows the abuse to continue. She does not report the abuse of her children. She does not alleviate their suffering by giving them food. She does not comfort them by turning on the lights in the basement or untie them even when her husband has fallen asleep.
In this case, the father is criminally liable for the neglect of their children. The mother assists, aids and abets her husband’s criminal neglect of their children. She is criminally liable as an accessory to the criminal neglect of their children.
The crime is neglect, not giving their children the proper care and nurture, love and protection they need to develop their potential. Neglect is a form of child abuse. Both the parents are complicit in this crime as partners. Neglect, in this case, is the failure or refusal of the parents to protect their children from harm.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.