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 forHong 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 StorkwainCase (1986)
Statutes can be confusing and it is not clear when offences, especially those involving the age of the victim, will be strict liability. • It is not clear that strict liability does raise standards: better funding for the Health & Safety Executive may yield better results. • Sometimes penalties can be severe- there was a large fine in Gammon • 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 voluntarily.