Strict Liability PowerPoint

• Strict liability offences are those where it is not necessary to
prove mens rea. D’s fault is established by proving the actus
reus alone.
• In some strict liability offences it is not necessary to prove
mens rea at all, in others, such as causing death by dangerous
driving, it is not necessary to prove mens rea as to a part of the
actus reus (Here the “death” part).
• Most strict liability offences are created by statutes and are
purely regulatory in nature. Examples include: failing to display a
car tax disc, speeding and environmental offences.
• They are usually punishable by fine alone.
• An example of a strict liability offence is found in London
Borough of Harrow v Shah (1999)
• Difficulties occur when it is not clear from the wording of the
act whether the offence is strict liability or not.
• Judges will presume that where the act is unclear, Parliament
intended crimes to require mens rea. Sweet v Parsley (1970)
• This is particularly the case with “true” crimes where conviction
involves serious consequences, B v DPP (2000)
• Of course where an offence is unclear and yet involves issues of
social concern, the courts are at liberty to interpret the crime
as one of strict liability as they did in the Shah case.
• Even where a statutory offence is one of social concern, mens
rea may still be presumed (unless strict liability is necessary to
encourage greater vigilance for the protection of society.
Gammon v Hong Kong (1985) )
Advantages and Disadvantages of Strict
Liability Crimes
• Advantages:
• Dispensing with the necessity to prove mens rea means that
more defendants are convicted more easily which encourages
compliance with the law. Alphacell v Woodward (1972), Smedleys
v Breed (1974)
• Consequently the public is better protected, Gammon v AG for
Hong Kong
• Convictions attract publicity which encourages compliance.
• Most strict liability offences are merely regulatory and
punishable only by fine.
• Disadvantages:
• It is essentially unjust to convict people of crimes when they do
not have any personal fault through a guilty mind. The Storkwain
Case (1986)
• Statutes can be confusing and it is not clear when offences,
especially those involving the age of the victim, will be strict
• It is not clear that strict liability does raise standards: better
funding for the Health & Safety Executive may yield better
• Sometimes penalties can be severe- there was a large fine in
• Defendants who are not personally at fault are stigmatised by
criminal convictions.
• Strict liability offences are different from absolute liability
offences because the latter do not even have to be committed