Unit 202 Principles of Liability

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Strict Liability Offences – Information for clients

  Strict liability offences are those in which it has been decided that mens rea (criminal intention) is not required and that if someone has fulfilled the actus reus (physical act) of the crime, whether they intended to or not, then this will be enough to convict. There is, however, a presumption of law that mens rea is required before a person can be found guilty of a criminal offence, this presumption and four others can be displaced by strict liability offences, and these presumptions were specified by Lord Scarman in the case:   Gammon (Hong Kong) [1985].

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 offences is “truly criminal” in character.

3. The presumption applies to statutory offences, and can be displaced only if this is clearly or by necessary implication 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, and public safety is such as issue.

5. Even where a statute is concerned with such an issue, the presumption of mens rea stands unless it can also be shown that the creation of strict liability will be effective to promote the objects of the statute by encouraging greater vigilance to prevent the commission of the prohibited act.

Lord Scarman laid down these criteria as those upon which the court should impose strict liability.

The vast majority of strict liability offences have been deemed strict liability by statute; there are very few offences of strict liability in common law. Statutory strict liability offences include offences relating...