For and Against - Strict Liability

For and Against - Strict Liability


  • Statutory offences created by parliament ensure that the public is protected - it is more important to protect the public even though in some cases defendants who tae every possible care will be convicted of an offence, e.g. there are many statutory offences for cars to ensure that they are safe for the road
  • helps to protect the public by regulating activities 'involving potential danger to public, health, safety or morals'
  • promotes greater care - encourages higher standards e.g. hygiene - makes sure businesses are run properly
  • easier to enforce as no required mens rea
  • saves court time - as people are more likely to plead guilty
  • Parliament can provide a 'due diligence' defence where this is thought to be appropriate
  • lack of blameworthiness can be taken into account when sentencing - judge can pass a very lenient sentence where he feels the level is low
  • health and safety executive and local trading standards officers are more likely to improve notices or prohibition notices in the first instance - helps to know law is complied without the use of a court


  • imposes liability on people who are not blame worthy
  • those who are unaware of risks may be guilty
  • no evidence that it improves standards
  • Imposition of Strict Liability is contrary to human rights
  • some strict liability offences carry a social stigma
  • Harrow LBC v Shah and Shah 1999 - defendant done their best to prevent the sale of lottery tickets to people under 16
  • Callow v Tillstone 1900 - the use of an expert (vet) was insufficient to avoid liability
  • Environment Agency v Empress Car CO Ltd 1998 -house of lords considered the word 'cause' in an act where there was strict liability. They held that the defendant could only escape liability if he could show that the occurrence arising from the operations of his business was abnormal and extraordinary rather than on normal facts of life. This meant that a defendant can be guilty of something even if they are unaware of it happening.
  • Environment Agency v Empress Car CO Ltd 1998 - the company was liable for a leak because there was a hidden defect in a seal, which caused pollution
  • some companies may avoid precaution against small risks because the profits are more important than spending money on the risk. The cost of the precaution may be for greater than the fire imposed too.
  • R v G 2008 - the house of lords decided that the 15 year old boy was guilty of **** of a 12 year old girl who he had reasonable grounds to be 15
  • R v G also shows that strict liability can be imposed even when it creates serious social stigma. G is now put on the register for sex offenders.


Proposals for reform of strict liability:- Parliament should always state expressly whether an offence is meant to be one of strict liability or not - courts wouldn't need to use complicated rules of interpretation in order to decide if an offence is or not. - Draft Criminal Code suggested this could be done by including the presumption of mens rea in the code. - requiring each offence to have a defence of due diligence - to avoid the injustice of those who have taken all possible care being guilty of an offence - a rule that no offence carrying the penalty of imprisonment could be an offence of strict liability - would ensure that no one could be imprisoned for a breach of strict liability - removing regulatory offences from the criminal system. 


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