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R v Prince (1875) LR 2 CCR 154

Absolute liability - Mens rea of abduction under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Facts

Henry Prince (H) was convicted under to section 55 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 of taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 out of the possession of her father without the father’s consent. The girl, Annie Phillips (A), was in fact 14 years old, however A had told H that she was 18, and H reasonably believed that that was her age. The appellant appealed against his conviction.

Issue

Section 55 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is silent as to the mens rea required for the offence. The issue in question was whether the court is required to read a mens rea requirement into a statute which is silent as to the mens rea for an offence, and therefore if H’s reasonable belief was a defence to the offence under Section 55.


Held
Where a statute is silent as to the mens rea for an offence, the court is not bound to read a mens rea requirement into the statute. The offence was one of strict liability as to age, therefore a mens rea of knowledge of the girl’s actual age was not required to establish the offence. H’s reasonable belief was therefore no defence, and the conviction was upheld. This decision did not survive the later case of Sweet v. Parsley [1970] AC 132, however. Sweet v. Parsley clarified the mens rea requirement for statutory offences, as it distinguished between regulatory crimes (imposing strict liability), and ‘true crimes’ which require a mens rea element.


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