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The courts begin with the assumption that mens rea is required for a crime, however if they decide that the
offence does not require mens for at least part of the actus reus the offence is one of strict liability.
o Prince (1975): D had taken a girl out of the possession of her father but did so, in his belief, on
reasonable grounds. The mens rea was required for the intention to take the girl from the
possession of the father, but knowledge of the age is not required. This illustrates a concept of
D can be liable if his voluntary act inadvertently caused a prohibited consequence. Callow v Tillstone
(1900) where D asked a vet to examine a carcass to make sure it was fit for human consumption, it was
held to be. However, it was unfit. Due to it being a strict liability offence the D was convicted even though
he had taken reasonable care not to commit the offence of exposing unsound meat for sale.
Strict Liability at common law and statute law.
Most offences of strict liability are found within statute law. They usually are offences that are regulatory in
nature such as matters of regulating the sale of food and alcohol, the prevention of pollution and the safe
use of vehicles.
There are some common law offences such as public nuisance, criminal libel and blasphemous libel. But
most offences are found within statute.
An Act of Parliament will usually not contain words such as negligence, intention or knowledge as these
indicate the requirement of mens rea. Although, the courts will still look at a number of factors before
deciding whether it is a strict liability offence.
The courts use three main approaches to interpreting an act: literal interpretation, golden rule and the
mischief rule. Each rule gives different ways for the courts to interpret a piece of legislation and is an
important feature within strict liability offences.
The courts start by assuming that the mens rea is required for all offences; this was illustrated in Sweet v
Parsley (1969) where Lord Reid made it clear that when a statute is silent about mens rea the court will
start with the "presumption that...we must read in words appropriate to require mens rea".
The courts are prepared to interpret the offence as one of strict liability if Parliament has expressly
indicated that it is relevant within the statute.
If the statute uses the words intention, maliciously or knowingly it suggests mens rea is required and it is
not an offence of strict liability.
o Although, some Acts of Parliament are silent about the requirement for mens rea and therefore the
courts have to carry out strict interpretations.
The case of Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney-General of Hong Kong (1984) laid down the rules
relating to the interpretation of strict liability offences; the Privy Council stated that one should start with
the presumption mens rea is required:
o It can be displaced due to the wording of a statute if a particular section is silent of the point of
mens rea then the courts will look in other sections of the Act, if other sections use words of mens
rea then the courts usually identify the offence as being on strict liability. E.g. in Storkwain (1986)
the D was a pharmacist who prescribed drugs to a forged prescription. The HoL's held that D was
liable as he had prescribed the drugs and this was enough to make him liable.
In this case the courts looked at other sections of the act to see whether mens rea was
required for the offence. In other sections words of mens rea were used indicating that this
one offence was one of strict liability.
o The crime is truly criminal in character meaning the presumption cannot be displaced
"Quasi-criminal offences" are usually regulatory offences and therefore not "truly criminal".
These are offences such as: selling food (Callow v Tillstone, 1900) or building regulations
(Gammon, 1984) or even regulations preventing pollution from being caused (Alphacell
Ltd v Woodward, 1972).
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Alphacell Ltd v Woodward D was a company who caused polluted matter to
enter the river. It was held by the HoL's that due to it being of the "utmost public
importance" that rivers should not be polluted that the company was liable.
If the crime carries a sentence of imprisonment it is likely to be seen as not being a strict
liability offence.…read more
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oHowever, some people do argue that strict liability offences are counter-productive in that people
realise that they could be prosecuted even though they have taken every possible care, they may
be tempted not to take any precautions because either way they could be liable.
Easy to enforce: The offences are easy to enforce as mens rea is not required.…read more