My notes on Strict liability and absolute liability

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Absolute Liability
This is very rare, offences of absolute liability require no mens rea and the defendant's actions (the actus reus) need not be voluntary.
Winzar (1983)
The defendant was taken to hospital on a stretcher, but when he was examined by the doctors they found that he was not ill but was
merely drunk. The defendant was told to leave the hospital but was later found slumped on a seat in the corridor. The police were
called and they took the defendant outside onto the main road. They decided he was drunk so took him to the police station the patrol
car. They then charged him with being found drunk on a public highway contrary to s12 of the Licensing Act 1872. The Divisional
Court upheld his conviction.
Larsonneur (1933)
The defendant was from a foreign country and was termed an 'alien'. She had been ordered to leave the country and decided to go to
the Republic of Ireland (which is not part of the UK). The Irish police deported her back to the UK, leaving her in a police cell in
Holyhead. She had no wish to return to the UK, i.e. she had no mens rea. The actus reus, returning to the UK, was not voluntary.
Despite this she was found guilty under the Aliens Order 1920 of being 'an alien to whom leave to land in the UK has been refused ...
found in the UK'.
Strict Liability Definition and Key Points
No mens rea is required in respect of one or more elements of the actus reus
The actus reus must be proved
The defence of mistake is not available
The Concept of Strict Liability
The concept of strict liability (and how unfair it can sometimes be) is illustrated by the following case
Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Storkwain (1986)
The defendant was charged under s58(2) of the Medicines Act 1968 which states that no one shall supply certain drugs without a
prescription. The defendant had supplied drugs on prescription, but the prescriptions were later found to be forged. It was held that the
defendant had not acted dishonestly, improperly or even negligently as the forgery was sufficient to deceive the pharmacist. Despite
this the House of Lords decided that the defendant's conviction should stand. The pharmacist had supplied the drugs without a genuine
prescription and this was enough to make them guilty of the offence.
Commentary on Storkwain
The mere fact that it was proved that Storkwain had supplied the drugs (the actus reus of the offence) and the actus reus was voluntary
was enough for him to be convicted of this strict liability offence. If Storkwain had been forced at gunpoint to supply the drugs then the
actus reus of the offence would not have been voluntary and he could not have been convicted of the offence.
General Points About Strict Liability Offences
For all criminal offences there is a presumption that mens rea is required. If the judge decides that the offence in question does not
require mens rea for at least part of the actus reus then the offence will be deemed to be one of strict liability.
Not requiring mens rea for part of the actus reus of an offence is illustrated by the following two cases where the defendants were both
charged with taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 out of the possession of her father, against his will, contrary to the Offences
Against the Persons Act 1861, s55.
Prince (1875)
Prince knew that the girl he took was in the possession of her father but believed, on reasonable grounds, that she was 18. He was
convicted of the offence as he had the intention to remove the girl from the possession of her father. Mens rea was required for this part
of the actus reus and this was established as he had the necessary intention to remove her. However, the court held that knowledge of
her age was not required as for this part of the actus reus there was strict liability.
Hibbert (1869)

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The defendant met a girl aged 14 in the street. He took her to another place where they had sexual intercourse. He was acquitted of
the offence as it was not proved that he knew the girl was in the possession of her father. Even though the age aspect of the offence
was one of strict liability, mens rea was required for the removal aspect, and in this case the necessary intention (mens rea) was not
proved.…read more

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The vast majority of strict liability offences are created by statute. Most are regulatory in nature, i.e. involving matters such as
regulating the sale of food and alcohol, the prevention of pollution and the safe use of vehicles.
In order to decide whether an offence is one of strict liability the courts always start by assuming that mens rea is required.…read more

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Issues of Social Concern
The Privy Council held that the only situation in which the presumption of mens rea can be displaced is where the statute is concerned
with an issue of social concern. This allows strict liability to be justified in a wide range of offences where it is thought there is a
potential danger to the public health, safety or morals.…read more


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