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This article is written by Mahelaka Abrar, from the faculty of law, Aligarh Muslim University. In this article, she discusses crime and the various approaches to it.


The definition of Crime is beautifully quoted by Lord William Blackstone, an eminent English jurist of eighteenth-century A.D. that, “ Crime as an act committed or omitted in violation of public-law either forbidding or commanding it”. In this definition, Lord Blackstone has emphasized crime as the harm or injury carried out on the community at large.

Early ideas about crime were either linked to religion or property. Immoral acts, moralities and sacrilege was considered sins (which was equivalent to crime) and was primarily dealt with by the church. Besides this, the church also maintained law and order, discipline and probity.

Ingredients Of Crime

There are four elements or ingredients which are necessary for the commission of crime:

Human Being

The first ingredient required for a crime is that the unlawful act must be done by a human. In ancient times, when criminal law was dictated by the concept of retribution, punishments were imposed on humans as well as animals for causing any harm. For e.g. often horses or cows were killed for causing harm to human beings like kicking a man or destroying property.

This concept was not considered much logical consequently discarded. The rules of crime and criminal jurisprudence have been amended time and time again for refinement. Now, the first ingredient of crime is a human being. It is mandatory that the human being or person must be under a legal duty to act in a specific manner and should be fit for rewarding punishments. Further, Section 11 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 elaborates on this concept and states that the word “person” aside from a human being may include a Company or Association or body of persons, whether incorporated or not. Therefore, the word “person” may include artificial or juridical persons as well.

Mens Rea (Guilty Mind) 

The second significant ingredient of the crime is mens rea or evil mind or intentions. This is based on the maxim, “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means guilty acts and guilty intentions together comprise crime. Every crime requires a mental element or ingredient which is considered as the basic principle of criminal liability. Therefore, no person can be punished in a criminal proceeding unless it can be shown that he had a guilty mind.

Actus Reus (Guilty Act or Omission) 

The third essential ingredient of crime is Actus Reus or Guilty Act. This term (Actus Reus) was first used by Prof.Kenny. Actus Reus is the manifestation of Mens Rea in the external world. It denotes the act done by a person in furtherance of his mens rea or guilty intention. In criminal law, along with mens rea, it’s important to prove the actus reus of the accused in order to convict him for an offence.


The fourth requirement for the commission of crime is Injury. This injury could be to a specific person or society as a whole. Section 44 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, describes that the injury caused should be done illegally by the offender and could be to the body, mind, reputation or property of the person.

Classification of Crime

Almost every legal system divides crimes into several categories for various purposes connected with the working of the court. The Common Law primitively divides crime into two


Common law


In this type, the crimes are generally heinous and of grave nature. These types of crimes are mostly punished with death and confiscation of the perpetrator’s land and goods to the crown. At the outset, the police have even the power to arrest a person on basis of mere suspicion that he/she had committed the offence.


In this type, the crimes are mostly trivial and small ones. These types of crimes are generally punishable by fines or imprisonment. Herein, the police have no right or power to arrest a person on basis of mere suspicion or doubt.

In the early nineteenth century, theft was considered a felony regardless of the amount stolen. On the other hand,  fraud or deception was considered as misdemeanour irrespective of how serious it was. Thus, there was no distinction with regard to the gravity of the offence committed. This discrepancy could be attributed to the fact that the growth of law at the time was sluggish and stagnant. However, in the late 1960s, the above-mentioned system was amended to provide a distinction between such offences and make the law more effectual and justifiable.

Indian law

The Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) classifies all the crimes into two categories:

  1. cognizable offences; and
  2. non-cognizable offences.

First Schedule of the Cr.P.C. gives the classification of the offenses of the IPC into Cognizable and Non-Cognizable categories:


A Cognizable offense or case is defined as the one which an officer-in-charge of a police station may investigate without the order of a magistrate and effect arrest without a warrant. The Police have a direct responsibility to take immediate action on the receipt of a complaint or of credible information in such crimes, visit the scene of the crime, investigate the facts, apprehend the offender and arraign him before a Court of law having jurisdiction over the matter. 


Non-Cognizable crimes are defined as those which cannot be investigated by police without the order of a competent magistrate. The Police do not initiate an investigation in NonCognizable crimes except with magisterial permission. 

Measurement of Crimes

Evaluating the extent of crime actually committed is a quite complicated and arduous task.

Statistical data for recorded crime don’t generally provide a precise picture, because they are affected by variable factors like the willingness of the victim to report a crime. It is quite obvious that officially reported crimes are only a small fraction of actual crimes committed. The public opinion of crime is largely acquired from the print media and digital media as the

media mostly focuses on serious and sensational crimes which result in public’s distorted perception. Another precise view is mostly provided by the comprehensive stats of crime that are gathered and published by the government departments like The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which provides annual data related to crime in the country. Similarly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) publishes crime stats annually which is known as Uniform Crime Reports. 

However, it is known that a lot of crimes go unreported and as a result the data often gets distorted. Other factors accounting for the distortion is the magnitude to which police resources are aimed towards the investigation of one kind of crime rather than another, specifically with regard to “Victimless Crimes” such as possession of drugs. These types of crimes are not revealed unless the police gather their efforts to look into them.

Additionally, another factor that can have a noteworthy effect on the evident statistical incidence of a specific type of a crime is a change in the willingness of a victim to report the crime to the police. Victims frequently fail to report the crime due to various reasons: lack of awareness, lack of trust and lack of confidence to report the crime. 

Approaches to Crime

Crime is a relative and dynamic concept which keeps on changing with the passage of time.

Consistent with the perspective of taking crime as an ordinary and unavoidable part of life, there are often very few expectations that reactions to crime will affect future criminality. The approaches to crime have been different in different stages of human civilization and had been distinct in dissimilar societies. The mental outlook towards crime has always been pronounced by extreme emotions and sentiments shown by society and its people.

There are various approaches to crime. They are mentioned below:

  1. Traditional Approach
  2. Modern Approach
  3. Sociological Approach
  4. Psychological Approach
  5. Legal Approach

From the above-mentioned approaches to the crime, only three have been discussed below.

Sociological Approach to Crime

Environmental determinants like physical, social, economical, cultural and political may shape the behaviour and attitude of people. Meager social, physical and family environment may lead the person to strengthen his intentions towards the crime. Living in poverty and destitution, lack of social support and pessimistic familial background may increase the possibility of occurrence of criminal acts in the society. Furthermore, unemployment, illiteracy and lack of awareness add to the risks of criminal acts. Crime can be the repercussion of defective social structure and persons living in those societies may learn criminal acts because of socialization.

The Strain Theory given by Merton in 1938 is based on a socio-structural outlook. According to this theory, the social structure within the society can give rise to criminal acts in society. When people experience stress or strain in their lives, they start to behave like criminals to reduce the negativity from their lives. On the basis of general Strain Theory, two general types of strain or stress can lead  to committing of criminal acts by a person:

  1. i) when someone prevents an individual from achieving his goals; 
  2. ii) when someone takes valuable things owned by an individual. 

The goals mentioned above could be money, status or autonomy from adolescents. If there are limited ways to achieve these goals, people will stick to committing criminal acts even by using illegal ways. Moreover, if anything which is precious to an individual is snatched away, it is likely that he will go to all extent to restore it, even if he has to take up unlawful means.

Most of the recent Sociological theories concentrate on the bigger social environment like communities. Researchers and analysts try to comprehend why some societies have a higher

crime rate than others. These questions further gave rise to the Social Disorganization Theory. This theory is defined as the inability of members of a particular community or society to achieve shared values. These societies or communities have poor living standards, finite resources, residential instability, family disruption, population density, and ethnic diversity. These situations may halt public integration and further increase in criminal activities

Psychological approach to Crime

Due to the collaboration of Psychology and Criminology, new fields and disciplines emerged in the field of education like Forensic Psychology, Legal Psychology and Criminological Psychology. Psychological researchers try to scrutinize the effect of individual differences, personality characteristics and psychological strands of criminal acts while criminologists try to analyze the causes and reasons of an individual’s criminal acts. This is the prime reason why psychological theories are created to analyze the behaviour of the offender.

Psychodynamic Trait Theory given by Sigmund Freud in the late 1800s has proved to be an effective approach in the history of crime studies and research. According to this theory, childhood experiences forge the future interpersonal relationships of persons. Id, ego and superego affect the behavior of persons. Id is the primeval part that controls our requirements for food, desires, sleep and other fundamental instincts. The Ego controls Id by setting up limits and due to Superego, people judge the situation, reflecting the morality and rules of society. This idea supports that the criminal is possessed with Id dominated personality and behaviour. If the ego doesn’t control id, the person will behave like a criminal. These persons have some communicational and social complications which result in the happening of crime.

Various psychologists also found the effects of empathy and altruism on the approaches to crime. Empathy is an emotional and cognitive capacity to perceive the feelings and agony of others. While altruism is an active concern for others welfare. Studies proved that the lower level of empathy and altruism causes greater anti-social behavior and criminal acts. Moreover,

impulsiveness and negative sentimentality are other influenced personality traits and characteristics which may increase criminal acts due to the fact that impulsive person act and behave without thinking of consequences while a negative sentimentality trait can’t control their behavior. Behavioral Psychology, on the other hand, claims that people learn their behaviours through punishments and rewards. Thus, the criminal activities may increase with reinforcements and decrease with punishments and retribution.

Legal Approach to Crime

During most of the time when the sphere of criminology was being developed, people supposed that crime was a behaviour that had been judged to be a violation of the criminal law. This concept was clearly expressed by an eminent criminologist, Paul Tappan in 1947 when he noticed that “ crime is an intentional act in violation of Criminal Law which includes( statutes, case laws, acts) committed without defence or excuse and penalized by the state as a felony or misdemeanour”. Obviously, in this approach crime is factually easy to fathom, but it suffers from the relativity of criminal law and the operation of the criminal justice system. Explanations and clarification of crime would have to be relative to the legal system and historical period and could not have a standing of scientific explanations.

A powerful legal system and target hardening may decrease the rate of crime in a society. Especially, the efficacy of laws and punishments may decrease criminal acts. The fair legal system shapes and outlines the decision-making process of potential criminals positively.


The origin of criminal activities has been discussed by different scientific disciplines and various approaches. The article tended to rationalize the query of “why people commit a crime?”. It could be concluded that there are various factors which affect the behaviour of individuals and their decision to commit a crime. The article aimed to present different approaches to criminal activities within a society. The research on various approaches to crime makes it intelligible and lucid clear that it is impossible to determine a specific approach to crime which gives an infallible answer to all questions of crime causation and their solutions. However, the different approaches to crime do provide better grounds for the determination of particular policies for dealing with crimes and criminals more smoothly.


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