Strict Liability Issues.

Alphacell v Woodward (1972) - company

B v DPP (2000) - Parliament must make clear that mens rea is not required.

Gammon (Hong Kong) (1985) - company

R v Cunningham (1957)

R v Hallam (1957) - possession

R v Larsonneur (1933)

R v Lemon (1979)

R v Marriot (1971) - possession

R v Prince (1875)

R v Shorrock (1993)

R v Storkwain (1986) - harshness of the rule

Smedleys v Breed (1974)

Sweet v Parsley (1970) Conviction quashed - possession

Warner v MPC (1969) - possession

Winzar v Chief Constable of Kent (1983)

Winzar v Chief Constable of Kent (1983)

The police were called to remove D, a drunk from a hospital corridor. He was placed in the police car on the hospital forecourt, then charge and convicted with being found drunk Ďon a highway or a public placeí.

The court held that it was enough to show that D had been present on the highway and was perceived to be drunk. It didnít matter that his presence on the highway was momentary and not of his own volition.

R v Prince (1875)

D was charged with taking an unmarried girl, under the age of sixteen, out of the possession and against the will of her father. D honestly believed that the girl was eighteen. 

The under age element on the offence is strict liability and therefore any mistaken belief that he had that the girl was sixteen was irrelevant.

R v Lemon (1979)

The editor and publisher of gay news were charged with blasphemous libel. They had published a poem about Christ, which was considered to be an insult to Christianity. The court held that there was no need to prove that the Dís intended to blaspheme. As long as they had the intention to publish, they would be liable.

R v Shorrock (1993)

D had agreed to hire out his field, but claimed that he didnít know the type of event (acid house party) which was planned. He was convicted of public nuisance. 

C of A held that actual knowledge of the likely nuisance was not necessary. It was enough that D ought to have known - because the means of knowledge were available to him.

R v Larsonneur (1933)

X, a French national, landed in England with a French passport endorsed in such a way, which prevented her from working in the UK. She had to leave England so went to EIRE, from there she was deported back to England by the Irish Police. 

She was found guilty of being in the UK, contrary to the Aliens Act 1920.

Smedleys v Breed (1974)

peas The Dís, a large scale manufacturer of tinned peas, producing over 3 million tins in a seven week season, was convicted under the Food and Drugs Act (1955) (now Food and Safety Act 1990). When one tin was found to contain a small caterpillar.

The H of L dismissed the companyís appeal. It was an offence of strict liability and was an example of one of the regulatory offences. Therefore it was not sufficient to show that the company had taken all reasonable care to avoid such an event happening.

Warner v MPC (1969)

The D was charged with being in possession of drugs. The drugs were in one of two parcels that the D said he believed contained perfume. 

The H of L held that the offence was one of strict liability, thus mens rea was unnecessary. The fact that D was in possession of the contents of the parcel was sufficient.

Said obiter (per Lord Reid, Lord Pearce and Lord Willberforce) the strong inference that possession of a package by an accused was possession of its contents could be rebutted by raising real doubt either

(a) whether the accused (if a servant or bailee) had both no right to open the package and no reason to suspect that the contents of the package were illicit, or
(b) that (if the accused were the owner of the package) he had no knowledge of, or was genuinely mistaken as to, the actual contents or their illicit nature and received them innocently, and also that he had no reasonable opportunity since receiving the package to acquaint himself with its contents.


Sweet v Parsley (1969) Conviction quashed

D was a landlady who did not live on the premises and only visited occasionally. Her lodgers smoked cannabis and she was charged with being concerned in the management of the premises which were used for the purpose of smoking cannabis. It was not proved that she knew of the smoking. 

The H of L quashed the conviction and said it was not an offence of strict liability because knowledge of the use of the premises was essential to the offence and since she had no such knowledge, she did not commit the offence.

R v Hallam (1957)

D was charged with knowingly possessing explosives. He thought thought the substance was soap powder. The court held that the prosecution must prove that the accused knew that the substance was an explosive.

R v Cunningham (1957)

ĎMaliciouslyí indicates a need to prove mens rea.

Gammon (Hong Kong) (1985)

The Dís were involved in building works in Hong Kong, when part of a building they were constructing fell down. It was found that the collapse had occurred because the builders had failed to follow the original plans exactly. Hong Kong building regulations prohibited diverting in any substantial way from the plans.

On appeal against conviction, the Dís argued that they were not liable because they had not know that the changes they had made were substantial ones. However, the court held that the relevant regulations created the offences of strict liability and the convictions were upheld. It was confirmed that although there is a presumption of law that mens rea is required before a person can be found guilty of a criminal offence, this presumption could be displaced by strict liability offences.

Alphacell v Woodward (1972)

The Dís were a company accused of causing polluted matter to enter a river. They were using equipment to prevent any overflow into the river, but when the mechanism became clogged with leaves the pollution was able to escape. There was no evidence that the Dís had been negligent, or even knew that the pollution was leaking out. 

However the H of L held that in the normal meaning of the word, the company had Ďcausedí the pollution to enter the water and their conviction was upheld.

R v Marriot (1971)

The D was convicted of possession of cannabis when the knife he was carrying was found to have 0.03g of cannabis resin adhered to it. In his defence he tried to say that he did not know what the substance was. 

On appeal, the court said that the accused was guilty of possessing cannabis if he knew there was a substance on the penknife, even if he didnít know what.

Compare to :-

R v Storkwain (1986)

D, a pharmacist, supplied drugs for which a prescription was required, after being handed a forged prescription. There was no evidence of any negligence or wrong doing on the part of the pharmacist.

However, on appeal against conviction, the H of L held that the statute created an offence of strict liability - therefore no proof of mens rea was required.  

B v DPP (2000).

The Divisional Court had upheld a conviction of a 15-year old boy for an offence of inciting a child under 14 to commit an act of gross indecency, determining that it was a strict liability offence.

The H of L overruled this decision, emphasising that where the statute makes no mention of mens rea there is a presumption that it is required and this presumption is particularly strong if the offence is serious.