Determining the Criminalisation of Non-Reporting of Unlawful Activities

Determining the Criminalisation of Non-Reporting of Unlawful Activities

This blog covers the understanding of mandatory reporting of crime about unlawful or suspicious behaviour. It also examines the view of the two different schools regarding the criminalisation of non-reporting of crime. It additionally analyses the advantages and disadvantages of both the school. The blog also delves into the crucial ingredients of such mandatory legislation if passed. Lastly, it diverts the reader to the conditions imposed if it is made criminal to fail to report and conclusion keeping the above context in mind.

Understanding Unlawful Activities 

Unlawful activity implies participation as a front or to request, demand, direct, or deliberately help someone else to take part in an activity that would comprise any offense by law. An unlawful activity would incorporate physical brutality, burglary, theft, assault, murder, or homicide. These are the kinds of offenses that would consequently be culpable under different systems of law across the globe. A suspicious action is a strange event in one’s neighbourhood under the ordinary course of circumstances. For instance, people lingering around schools, recreational areas, or disconnected zones could be sex offenders. Ordinarily, there is no criminal risk for neglecting to act or report in a specific circumstance.

Determining the Criminalisation of Non-Reporting of Unlawful Activities

Current System of Criminal Law 

A fundamental principle of criminal law is that for a person to be blameworthy of wrongdoing, he should firstly carry out a deliberate demonstration that results in cultural damage, an actus reus, and then have a liable perspective, a mens rea.[i] Resistance to a proposition for extending the obligation to report unlawful activity depends on both substantive and procedural concerns. The essential substantive contentions are that because an inability to act does not cause hurt, no-obligation ought to join without misfeasance, and positive obligations would both meddle with individual freedoms. They will adversely influence society by requiring selfless conduct[ii] except if one discerns blame[iii] as a blanket. This consistent classification applies to every circumstance. One needs to evaluate each demonstration separately.

Furthermore, that implies the awful demonstration of not reporting an unlawful activity is not equivalent to the terrible demonstration of effectively committing injury. It can be argued that people might have morals if they are apprehended about an arrest or some criminal liability in case, they fail to report a suspicious episode. Regardless of whether people ought to be lawfully committed to act or render help to anybody and everybody in risk has been and stays a questionable and intense subject matter.

Another factor that makes mandatory reporting of crimes sceptical is that the police may mishandle such an offense by utilizing it to apply pressure on the families and partners of suspects despite the many immunities and protection provided by the law against such exploitation.

Obligation to Report Crime 

The state is a labyrinth whose ends incorporate the security of its individuals from criminal savagery and various injuries. Each inhabitant has a fundamental right to seek protection from society. Consequently, the individual commits to helping in this limited capacity to protect a kindred resident in peril. The motivation behind reporting an unlawful activity is to improve the security of unfortunate casualties with the end goal of guaranteeing that the crisis administrations are informed about the commission of the offenses.

It can be duly submitted that an obligation to report a crime would incorporate a utilitarian concept that such a responsibility would advance the welfare of the general public as a whole, an ethical commitment tying the knot between morality and legality that the law ought to reflect moral standards. “The broader question is whether this should be a general duty applicable to all serious crimes, or a specific duty concerning crimes against vulnerable people such as children and the mentally disadvantaged.?”.[iv] Good Samaritan laws were created as an attempt to motivate people to help fellow citizens and fight against crime even without a legal obligation to the same.[v] However, it failed to stand up to its expectations. In this spirit, it can be assumed that a person who breaks this commitment can appropriately be held liable in criminal law but only in limited circumstances.

In many states of the United States of America’s inability to report suspicious activity is unlawful. However, a few states have established laws rebuffing people who omit to report specific kinds of violations to the authorities. In Ohio, for example, it is unlawful to disregard to report a lawful offense intentionally. Under Texas law, however, one can be accused of a Class A misdemeanour for not reporting an offense that is substantial enough to cause severe bodily damage or death. In Minnesota, on the other hand, there’s a duty to assist, and anybody at the location of a crisis who realizes that somebody has endured grave physical mischief, or could be harmed must provide prudent aid. Uzbek President Islam Karimov brought a new law where an individual can be held criminally liable if the person doesn’t provide data regarding terrorist attacks to the concerned authorities.

A New Challenge? 

With the heightening division of work and interdependency of social exercises, governing bodies have fortified administrative obligations of the private sectors to report crimes. The laws progressively require a more extensive scope of the private sector to act in an increasingly proactive way to distinguish and discourage wrongdoing while at the same time punishing its inability to report violations. Nevertheless, this new shift in focus to a person who does not report an unlawful activity has prompted a disregard of conventional culpability-based criminal law system. Even an innocent outsider who unfortunately became witness to the suspicious activity can be held criminally liable in the new domain.

It can be inferred from the various practices of law across the world as discussed above that there should be mandatory reporting of unlawful or suspicious activities in specific situations like grave offences like murder, terrorism, homicide, in heinous sexual offences like rape and abuse of children and to elderly or mentally challenged people who are incapable of taking care of themselves.

There has to be clarity while framing regulations and laws regarding reporting of unlawful activity in a way that there is no scope of ambiguity. The laws detailing crime reporting ought to contain ‘knowledge’ as an essential ingredient, including constructive knowledge as a prerequisite. They should likewise state with disposing of the activities that make it mandatory to report to the authority. Whether it imposes the duty on the public or specific people bound by the obligation to report, the time frame inside which observes must report the wrongdoing. If the statute provides any immunity to people who report such incidents and if there are any exceptions to such reporting that one may seek as a defence.


People in general are ignorant of their lawful commitment concerning reporting an unlawful activity. Some would prefer not to get included in the system by a paranoid fear of turning into an unfortunate casualty themselves. Others may feel they have an ethical commitment to react as a Good Samaritan and uncover offenders for their bad behaviour. Regardless, there is a significant contrast between a sentiment of moral obligation and a lawful obligation to act. There exist both lawful and customary reasons against a legitimately authorized obligation to report unlawful activities. These reasons uncover their inefficacy and put forth a dream of a system that is most likely to function in a utopian world. As ethically revolting as one may discover a refusal to report a crime, the truth is that an individual has no lawful obligation, duty, or commitment to do the same yet.

It is difficult to enforce mandatory reporting in case of every unlawful activity, as it could cause chaos and uncertainty. It would further pose the question of dealing with false reporting and legislating laws to tackle such situations where people are motivated enough to report activities, as mentioned earlier. However, refraining from using it as a tool of misuse against other civilians with personal grudges. There should be a balance between public policy and personal liberty.

[i]Robinson PH, Criminal Law Defenses (West 1984)

[ii]Nozick R, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books 1974)

[iii]Melody J Stewart, ‘How Making the Failure to Assist Illegal Fails to Assist: An Observation of Expanding Criminal Omission Liability’ (1998) 25 Am J Crim L 385

[iv]Ashworth A, Positive Obligations in Criminal Law (Hart Publishing 2013)

[v]Tunson J, ‘What Does the Law Say to Good Samaritans? A Review of Good Samaritan Statutes in 50 States and on US Airlines.’ (2014) 46 The Journal of Emergency Medicine 153


Prerna Deep is the recipient of the British Council’s Great Scholarship for pursuing LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Edinburgh. She holds LL.B. from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, and English Honours from Miranda House, University of Delhi. As an avid reader and writer, Prerna has authored several Nationally and Internationally published research papers and is currently a Senior Associate Editor at the Indian Society for Legal Research.

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