The concept of strict liability offenses can be summarized as follows: these offenses do not necessitate proving criminal intent, or mens rea. In cases of strict liability, individuals can be convicted even if they did not intend to commit a crime but are found to have committed a specific element of the actus reus. The examples of Prince and Hibbert serve as illustrations for this concept.
In the case of Prince (1875), a girl was abducted by Prince. He knew that she belonged to her father but believed that she was 18 years old. His intention to take her away led to his conviction for mens rea. On the other hand, in the case of Hibbert (1869), the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl publicly. However, he was acquitted as there wasn’t enough evidence proving his awareness of the father’s authority over her.
The defendant was dismissed in a strict liability offence because mens rea could not be proved, though age played a significant role. Strict liability offences are mostly regulatory and created by statute, governing areas like licensing, road traffic, food safety, pollution, and health and safety. While some strict liability offences can result in imprisonment upon conviction, many are minor and carry penalties like fines.
The introduction of strict liability laws occurred in response to the industrial revolution. This time period brought about several issues such as an increase in population, the spread of diseases, improvements in working conditions, and lower mortality rates. In order to address these problems, new laws were necessary to hold authorities and employers accountable for unsafe practices that were not being properly punished. The concept of liability stems from the philosophical principle of ‘utilitarianism’, which focuses on maximizing benefits for the largest number of people.
However, some argue that strict liability can be contradicted by companies that have been fined. In these cases, only the consumers suffer as the cost of goods rise, despite strict liability acting as a deterrent for illegal practices. The purpose of strict liability is clear, but it is also controversial in the field of law making. This essay will outline commonly put forward arguments for and against strict liability in terms of its effectiveness in enforcing the law and maintaining standards.
The use of strict liability is often justified by two main reasons. Firstly, it is believed that strict liability promotes enhanced safety and better prevention standards, providing the public with improved protection against the risks associated with certain activities. Secondly, strict liability offenses eliminate the need for the prosecution to prove mens rea, saving time and effort. This results in increased vigilance and administrative efficiency and serves as a deterrent for conviction and unsafe behavior.
Despite the concept of strict liability offenses, which eliminates the need to prove fault, a moral dilemma arises regarding whether it is justifiable to penalize someone who had no intent to commit a crime and took preventive measures. This argument challenges the implementation of strict liability as it suggests that despite objections, it remains a criminal offense that lacks robust enforcement.
The concept of strict liability is frequently criticized for its ability to hold individuals accountable without considering their responsibility. This can lead to a decline in the public’s respect for both the law and the criminal justice system. This perception stems from the idea that the legal system does not uphold moral standards. An example demonstrating this is Callow v Tillstone (1900), where a butcher sold a carcass based on a veterinarian’s assessment of its suitability for human consumption.
Despite taking full measures to ensure the carcass was fully examined before placing it on the market, the butcher was sentenced for a strict liability offense. Some argue that this violates the fundamental principle of criminal liability, known as ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’, which translates to “an act does not make a man guilty of crime, unless his mind is also guilty.” Lord Hailsham stated this principle in Haughton v Smith  AC 476.
Strict liability in criminal law is when the normal requirement of both an actus reus and a mens rea is broken. However, strict liability does not need proof of mens rea for at least one part of actus reus. This can lead to a lower penalty. Despite this, even with a small punishment, a defendant may still experience the embarrassment of being convicted for committing a criminal offense.
The reputation and livelihood of a defendant may be negatively impacted by strict liability offenses, potentially leading to ruin. This aspect is often disregarded in such cases, which raises concerns about the fairness of strict liability. The case of Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Storkwain (1986) exemplifies the perceived injustice of strict liability, where the defendant supplied forged drugs on prescription without being deemed to have acted improperly or negligently, as the forgery successfully deceived the pharmacist.
Despite this, the defendant’s conviction was upheld because the pharmacist had still delivered the medication, making them guilty of the offence. It was proven that Storkwain had willingly provided the drugs, establishing the actus reus of the offence and leading to his conviction for a strict liability offence. Considering all these factors, strict liability remains a valuable aspect within the legal system as it simplifies the enforcement of offences.
In the case of Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney-General, the absence of mens rea would have significantly impacted the court’s decision and made it challenging to convict the builders for their wrongdoing, as they did not have the intent to cause damage. However, the application of strict liability resulted in their punishment. Despite lacking intention, the builders were still held accountable for causing parts of the building to collapse, leading to their prosecution.
Therefore, this demonstrates the importance placed on the legal system. In conclusion, while strict liability has drawbacks, it could be more beneficial if implemented correctly and with some modifications. In lieu of strict liability, a possible alternative in cases without fault could be incorporating a negligence requirement for offenses. This would ensure that a defendant is only convicted if they fail to meet the reasonable standard of care, as it is morally unjustifiable to prosecute someone who did not intend to commit a crime.
Although proving mens rea can be challenging because of varying intentions, implementing strict liability guarantees that individuals within large companies are held accountable and prosecuted if found guilty. To lessen the harshness of strict liability, it would be advantageous to include a due diligence defense in laws. Consequently, my preference is for strict liability with suitable adjustments.
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