“The law presumes that mens rea is always required in criminal offences, unless it is clear that Parliament intended an offence to be one of strict liability”. Discuss.
The general principle of criminal law is that the prosecution must establish the presence of both actus reus and mens rea. As the majority of criminal offences are created by statute, Parliament will usually indicate the kind of mens rea required for the offence by inserting specific mens rea words into the Act e.g. intentionally, wilfully and dishonestly. However, there are a small number of crimes which can be committed without any mens rea. These offences are known as absolute and strict liability crimes. Absolute liability is not where no intention at all is required, nor there a voluntary act. The defendant is guilty because a state of affairs exists. This happened in Winzar v Chief Constable of Kent (1983) when a drunken man was removed from a hospital chair to the street by police where he was then charged. Strict liability tends to be regulatory offences, such as health and safety, and represent half of all cases brought before the courts. This means that there is no real moral issue involved and the maximum penalty is often small, an exception being a £10 million fine in the Hatfield train crash. There are however a few created by common law. These are: public nuisance, contempt of court and blasphemous libel. Lemon v Gay News (1979) being an example of blasphemous libel. Unfortunately statutes do not state “this is a strict liability offence”. Occasionally, the wording of the Act does make this clear, such as intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or wilfully, but if such words are not present, therefore the Act is silent; the courts are left to decide for themselves. The principles on which this decision is made were considered in Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney General (1985). This is when...
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