Explain the arguments for and against strict liability offences A strict liability offence is one where it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove any mens rea. In most cases of strict liability even if one did not have the intent to commit a crime, however reasonable, in relation to a particular element of the actus reus of an offence, they can still be convicted. This can be shown in reference to Prince and Hibbert.
Prince (1875) the girl was taken by Prince even though he knew she was in the possession of her father as he believed she was 18.
Mens rea was needed for him to be sentenced and this was recognized as he had the necessary intention to remove her. Hibbert (1869) the defendant had sexual intercourse with a 14 year old girl in public. He was not guilty as it could not be proved that he was aware that her father had control over her.
In strict liability offence, the age would have been an important factor however mens rea could not be proved causing the defendant to be dismissed.
The majority of strict liability offences are regulatory offences and are usually created by statute and govern issues such as licensing, road traffic, food safety, pollution and health and safety. Some strict liability offences can lead to a sentencing of imprisonment upon conviction but most of the time many of the offences are relatively minor and are dealt with a penalty, such as a fine.
The legislation of strict liability came after the industrial revolution, where certain problems were established from the great economic improvement arising from the increase of population, disease, lower mortality rates and working conditions. New and more accurate laws were needed to make authorities and employers liable for unsafe practices that were not being prosecuted. Liability is derived from the philosophical prospect of ‘utilitarian’, which signifies the greatest benefit to the greatest number.
However, this can be contradicted by companies that have been fined, where only the consumers suffer due to rise of cost in goods, even if strict liability has acted as a deterrent for negligence of illegal practices to cooperation’s and employers. Having established the purpose of strict liability, it is evident as to why it can be seen as a controversial area in law making and this essay will outline some of the arguments for and against it that are commonly put forward on the effective enforcement of the law and the maintenance of standards.
Two of the main justifications usually given for the use of strict liability are that they encourage greater safety and improved standards of prevention, thus offering the public better protection from the risks involved in particular activities. Strict liability offences also release the prosecution of the difficult task of proving mens rea as they do not have to spend time and effort proving it. Therefore this increases greater vigilance and administrative efficiency and deterring the effect of conviction and unsafe behaviour.
However, due to this idea of strict liability offences not requiring proof of fault leads to the simple moral claim of ‘is it right to punish a person who had no intent to commit a crime, and took precautions not to let anyone get harmed in any way, to still be convicted? ’ This opens the argument against the use of strict liability as it suggests that no matter what the opposing says, strict liability is a criminal offence and it is not vigorously enforced.
This in turn lowers the respect to law and the criminal justice system as it appears that the justice system cannot follow a moral principle. Therefore the main argument against strict liability is that it imposes guilt on people who are not blameworthy. An example of this is the Callow v Tillstone (1900) case where a butcher took a vets advice in to account on whether the carcass was healthy enough to be eaten. After examination of the carcass the vet advised the butcher that it was ok for human consumption, thus the butcher put it up for sale.
However, it was not fit enough to be eaten. This was a strict liability offence causing the butcher to be sentenced even though he was not at fault as he had taken full measure to ensure the carcass was fully examined before placing it on the market. Many would argue that strict liability violates one of the fundamental principles of criminal liability that derives from the latin ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ which translates that an act does not make a man guilty of crime, unless his mind is also guilty, as stated by Lord Hailsham in Haughton v Smith  AC 476.
Therefore, strict liability which requires no proof of mens rea with respect to atleast one element of actus reus, surely violates this principle in criminal liability as when punishing a man generally requires both an actus reus and a mens rea. Although there may be a small penalty that comes with strict liability offences, a defendant may still be punished through the humiliation that goes with being convicted of a criminal offence.
Due to such a conviction, the reputation and dignity of a defendant may potentially be ruined and their livelihood affected. Since this is not taken in to consideration in strict liability offences, the argument against the use of it is at hand. Strict liability can be seen as unjust through the case of; Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Storkwain (1986) the defendant had supplied forged drugs on prescription, but was not seen to have acted improperly or even negligently as the forgery adequately deceived the pharmacist.
In spite of this, it was decided that the defendant’s conviction should stand because the pharmacist still delivered the medication and this was enough to make them guilty of the offence. It was proven that Storkwain had provided the drugs (the actus reus of the offence) and that it was voluntary and not forced upon him to do so, so this was sufficient enough for him to be convicted of a strict liability offence. Taking all this in to consideration, strict liability can still be useful aspect within the legal system as it makes enforcing offences easier.
This can be seen in the Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney-General case; if the builders involved were asked to prove mens rea this would have caused a large shift in the decision made by the court and would have been difficult to convict the builder for their wrong doing as they did not have intention to cause damages. However due to strict liability being applied, they were punished because although they did not have the intention, the builders still caused parts of the building to collapse which resulted in prosecution.
Therefore this shows that the legal system was taken seriously. In conclusion, although it seems strict liability has its disadvantages, the process, if applied accurately and with a few changes, could be more advantageous. One of the alternatives to strict liability, in the absence of fault could be that offences could contain a requirement of negligence. This would ensure that a defendant is only convicted if he fails to meet the objective standard of the reasonable man, since it seems morally unjustified to prosecute an individual who had no intent of committing a crime.
However, on one hand, being in support of strict liability means that the right people are held accountable, especially within large companies and ensures the guilty are prosecuted. On the other hand it is difficult to prove mens rea because different people have different intentions. Possibly, if statutes were to contain a defence of due diligence it would remove some of the severity of strict liability. Therefore, with the correct alterations, I would be in favour of strict liability.
Elliot, C. E. (2010), English Legal System, 11th ed, Essex: Pearson Allen, M. A. (2009), Criminal Law, 10th ed, New York: Oxford Martin, J. M, (2007), Unlocking Criminal Law, 2nd ed, UK: Hodder Education Card, R. C. (2008), Criminal Law, 18th ed, New York: Oxford University Press Herring, J. H. (2009), Criminal Law, 6th ed, New York: Palgrave Macmillan law master Quinn, F. Q. (2010), Criminal Law, 8th ed, Essex: Pearson
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