Revision notes for Criminal Law on Strict Liability. Suitable for AS level Law.

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  • Created on: 21-01-08 09:36

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An offence of strict liability is one requiring no proof of mens rea in relation to one or more
elements of the actus reus. i.e. D can be convicted without proof of fault
This is an exception to the general rule that criminal liability requires proof of both actus
reus and mens rea
(42)Callow v Tillstone (1900) ­ Butcher selling unsound meat
Strict liability is not the same as absolute liability which has no mens rea or conduct
element, it is merely a set of circumstances which D must be in
(43)R v Larsonneur (1933) ­ Made to come to UK becoming an illegal immigrant
There are very few strict liability offences at common law level due to the seriousness of the
The courts do not want to get involved in creating offences which punish people without
proof of fault and hence leave it to parliament (note supremacy of parliament)
One of the few examples is blasphemous libel which involves publishing material likely to
insult/outrage the Christian religion
Statutory offences of strict liability arise where the words of the statute to not contain any
express words of mens rea (e.g. recklessly, intentionally or knowingly)
Here the courts must interpret the offence to decide whether or not mens rea is required
with the presumption being that it is
(44)Pharmaceutical Society of GB v Storkwain Ltd (1986) Fake prescriptions
In order to help the courts decide whether or not a statutory offence is one of strict liability
there are a set of guidelines to follow
The guidelines were created following Gammon (Hong Kong) v AG of Hong Kong (1985)
and are referred to as the `Gammon Test'
The five guidelines which the court must follow are:
1) there is a presumption that mens rea is required
2) the presumption is particularly strong in relation to `true' crimes
3) the presumption may only be displaced when it is the clear effect of the statute
4) the presumption may only be displaced where the offence is re. a matter of social
concern/public safety
5) the presumption can only be displaced if imposing strict liability will encourage
public vigilance and compliance
1) Presumption of MR:
The general principle is that criminal liability requires proof of fault i.e. proof of MR
(45)Sweet v Parsley (1970) ­ Tenants using house to consume cannabis
(46)B v DPP (2000) ­ 15 year old making inappropriate requests of a 13 year old

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Where the statute is silent the courts must `read in' word appropriate to require MR
2) Presumption particularly strong in relation to `true' crimes:
Here it is important to distinguish true crimes from regulatory/quasi crimes
Quasi crimes are subject to less social stigma and are more likely to be interpreted as
offences of strict liability
Quasi crimes cover areas such as: the sale of food, the sale of alcohol, prescription drugs,
pollution and the sale of lottery tickets
(42)Callow v Tillstone (1900) ­…read more

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Presumption may only be displaced to encourage vigilance and compliance:
Even where the statute is related to an issue of social concern the presumption of MR will
still only be displaced if the court is satisfied that imposing strict liability will encourage
public vigilance and compliance
This would be done through people's fear of being liable even without proof of any
The hope is that this encourages people to make further checks and precautions
Article 6(2) of the…read more


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