Strict Liability revision notes

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Strict Liability
Definition: A good definition is offered by Smith and Hogan. Liability without fault ­ not even
Callow V Tillstone (1890): A butcher was convicted of selling unfit meat despite the fact that he
had had the meat certified as safe by a vet before the sale. His conviction was upheld as the
offence was one of strict liability and it mattered not how diligent he had been to ensure the
safety of the meat.
GB Pharmaceutical Society v Storkwain (1986): The defendant pharmacist had filled a
prescription, but unknown to him the prescription was forged. Held: The offence of sale of
medicine contrary to the Act was one of strict liability, and was made out.
Re Prince (1875): The appellant was charged with taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 out
of the possession of her father contrary to s.55 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. He
knew that the girl was in the custody of her father but he believed on reasonable grounds that the
girl was aged 18. Held: His conviction was upheld. The offence was one of strict liability as to age
and therefore his reasonable belief was no defence.
Gammon Ltd v AG of Hong Kong 1985:
Facts: Defendant involved in building works in Hong Kong. Part of building collapsed. Builder
failed to follow existing plans exactly. Charge `material deviation from approved plan' Carrying
out works in a manner likely to cause injury or risk of damage'. Penalty HK$ 250,000 or 3 years
imprisonment. Convicted. Appealed - Defendants did not know that the changes they made were
substantial ones. Privy Council held: that the relevant regulations were strict liability and
convictions upheld.
Lord Scarman gave 5 key guidelines on how to identify a strict liability offence.
1. There is a presumption of law that Mens Rea is required before a person can be held guilty
of a criminal offence.
2. The presumption is particularly strong where the offence is `truly criminal' in character.
3. The presumption applies to statutory offences and can be displaced only if this is clearly...
the effect of the statute.
4. The only situation in which the presumption can be displaced is where the statute is
concerned with an issue of social concern; public safety is such an issue.
5. Even where a statute is concerned with such an issue, the presumption of Mens Rea
stands unless it can be shown that the creation of strict liability will be effective to
promote the objects of the statute but encouraging greater vigilance to prevent the
prohibited act.
Sweet v Parsley 1970 (Truly Criminal): A school teacher let her house out to students. The
students were smoking cannabis in the house. She was unaware of this activity. She was charged
with an offence of being concerned with the management of premises which were being used for
the purposes of smoking cannabis contrary to s.5(6) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. The statute
did not state any requirement of mens rea of the offence. Held: The House of Lords looked at the
common law before the statute was made. The common law required knowledge of the activities
in order to impose liability. Thus the presumption that statutes do not change the common law

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Smedley Ltd v Breed 1974 : The D's, a large scale manufacturer of tinned peas, producing over 3
million tins in a seven week season, was convicted under the Food and Drugs Act (1955) (now
Food and Safety Act 1990). When one tin was found to contain a small caterpillar. The H of L
dismissed the company's appeal. It was an offence of strict liability and was an example of one of
the regulatory offences.…read more

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Building regulations: Gammon Ltd v AG of Hong Kong 1985: (above)
Food hygiene Callow v Tillstone (1890) (above)
Wildlife/countryside: Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), Kirkland v Robinson 1987: possessed a
bird (Goshawk)
Firearms: Howells 1987:
Drugs: Warner v MPC 1968
Greater vigilance: Vigilance means being watchful in case of danger. The judge seems to think
that making some offences strict liability will encourage people to be careful generally because a
harsh penalty will apply if they don't.
1.…read more

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Larsonneur (1933): The defendant was convicted of being found in the UK, contrary to the Aliens
Order of 1920, even thought she had been brought forcibly into the UK by the immigration
B V DPP (1999): this shows that the courts still have the same presumptions as before.
A boy aged 14 was charged with an offence of inciting a child under 14 to commit an act of gross
indecency, contrary to section 1(1) of the Indecency with Children Act 1960.…read more


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