Strict Liability

General Principles: Strict Liability

Potentially a full set of revision notes in regards to whether an offence is strict liability.

Any errors/changes be they legal or typographical - let me know and I will rectify them ASAP.


Strict Liability

Strict liability is a crime committed with the voluntary actus reus but with no need to prove the mens rea.

This was proven by:


D dispensed forged prescriptions, was G even though the forgery was exceptional and could have fooled anyone.

An offence of strict liability requires no mens rea.

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Absolute Liability

Absolute liability requires no voluntary actus reus nor mens rea. It is a special class of strict liability offences.

Examples include Larsonneur

D was told to leave the UK - she moved to Eire but was deported back to the UK. She was guilty under the Aliens Order 1920.

An absolute liability offence can be through a state of affairs.

and Winzar.

D was admitted to hospital and found to be drunk. The police were summoned and they removed him to the street before charging him with being found drunk in a public highway.

An absolute liability offence does not require a mens rea or voluntary actus reus.

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Due Dilligence

There is no defence of due diligence for strict liability offences unless the Act specifically states so. An example of there the defence is present is under the Trades Descriptions Act.

In Shah & Shah (1999)

Newsagents were convicted of selling lottery tickets to under 16 year olds even though they had believed he was over 16.

Even though Ds had trained their staff correctly, the act of selling was enough to make Ds G.

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There is no defence of mistake to strict liability or absolute liability crimes.

The above point is demonstrated in Cundy v. Le Cocq (1884).

A licensee was convicted of serving an intoxicated person even though he did not think that he was drunk.

Where the offence is one of strict liability, the defence of mistake is not available.

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So is it strict liability?

When looking to see if a crime is one of strict liability the courts look at the wording of an Act to see if the crime is one requiring mens rea or is a crime of strict liability. If the Act is silent, the courts start with the presumption that mens rea is required.

This is illustrated in Sweet v. Parsley (1969). Where the House of Lords held that a land lady could not be responsible for tenants drug taking in a house which she rented to them when she was not to blame.

The case of B v. DPP (2003) decided that the starting point is that mens rea is required.

In the case of Gammon the court laid down five points to determine if a crime was one of mens rea or strict liability.

  • The presumption of mens rea.
  • This presumption can be displaced.
  • By looking at the wording of the act.
  • And considering whether the act is truly criminal.
  • Or if it concerns the public's safety.
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So is it strict liability (cont.)

Where the penalty is to be one of imprisonment it is less likely (although not impossible) that the offence would be one of strict liability. This was decided by the case of B v. DPP (2003).

D, a 15 year old boy, asked a 13-year-old girl to give him a 'shiner' (i.e. to have oral sex with him) whilst they were on a bus. He believed she was over the age of 14.

The starting point for the courts was that the presumption of that mens rea was intended. The judgement in Sweet v. Parsley was approved.

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@ Common Law

There are very few common law strict liability offences. One is relation to the offence of blasphemous libel where the defendants were convicted even though they did not intend the poem about Jesus being homosexual, to be blasphemous. (Lemon & Whitehouse v. Gay News Ltd.).

Other common law strict liability offences include:

  • Public nuisance.
  • Criminal libel.
  • Contempt of court (since been enacted).
  • Blasphemous libel.
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Quasi-Criminal Offences

It was said in B v. DPP(2003) that many crimes were of social concern and were quasi-criminal offences which were regulatory and that these were usually crimes of strict liability. Some case examples of these are:

  • Selling contaminated food: Callow v. Tillstone
  • Selling alcohol: Cundy v. Le Cocq
  • Building regulations: A-G for Hong-Kong v. Gammon
  • Sales of lottery tickets: Shah & Shah
  • Pollution of rivers: Alphacell
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Advantages (for) of strict liability

Along with others...

1. Strict liability increases the vigilance for public safety within the sales market etc.

2. The offence are easier to bring to court, as there is no need to prove the mental element.

3. They are therefore quicker to prove in the court.

4. It supports the belief that the law should reflect social concern.

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Disadvantages (against) of strict liability

Amogst others...

1. Is seen as unfair by the public.

2. Can be through no fault of the defendant.

3. There is no general due diligence defence.

4. May be contrary to European Convention of Human Rights.

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Thats really useful!

amy wakefield


quite handy, thankyou



Cheers for uploading this. Should be really useful.




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