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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Strict liability responsibilities

Strict liability is the legal responsibilities that make someone liable for damage without proof of negligent or fault. Strict liability concerns the social well being of the public. Both the actus reus and the mens rea are required before the D can be found guilty of an offence. However, the presumption of mens rea is required. An accused person will be liable for a criminal offence if an act has been committed that affects the public safety.

An actus reus of a crime have been fulfilled whether the crime was done intentionally or not. Strict liability offences are both regulatory strict liability offences and common law strict liability offences and they are made by the parliament. Examples of regulatory strict liability offences and cases are road traffic offences (R v Sheldrake 2004) whereby the D was charged under s. 5(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for been in charge of a vehicle after drinking alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath exceeded the prescribed limit; Health and safety (Callow v Tillstone 1990) whereby the D was convicted of selling meat which was unfit for the public consumption, though a vet had declared the meat to be safe; Pollution control (Alphacell v Woodward 1972) whereby a company was convicted for causing polluted substance into the river despite the fact that the company was unaware that the equipment used to prevent the substance from entering the river was clogged with leaves and the pollution was able to go into the river; Possession of unlawful weapons and drugs (Warner v MPC 1969) whereby the D had taken possession of some boxes hoping that the content of the box were perfumes not knowing that it was full of drugs, he argued that box contained perfumed because he sold perfume. An example of a common law strict liability offences includes public nuisance (Attorney General v PYA Quarries Ltd 1957) whereby the D was convicted for the misuse of stones and splinters that caused dust and vibrations that affects the neighbour; Blasphemous libel (R v Lemon (1979) whereby the D was charged with blasphemous libel on a poem about Christ, the court came to a conclusion saying that the D had the intent to publish the poem, they would be liable for the offence as it was considered as an insult to Christianity; criminal contempt of court and criminal libel. Generally, there is no defence against strict liability offences.

The presumption of law that mens rea is required before someone can be held strictly liable of an offence unlike the case of Sherras v De Rutzen 1895 whereby the D was convicted of selling alcohol to a police officer while on duty, the D argued that the police was off duty as he had removed his arm-band. In the case of (Sweet v Parsley 1969), whereby the D was convicted because her tenants were using her premises for smoking cannabis, however the House of Lords quashed the conviction because they said the offence was not a truly criminal offence as she did not have any idea or knowledge that her premises was been used for the purpose of smoking drugs and the case wasn’t considered as an effect to the public because the general rule of strict liability is when the offence involves the public safety. The presumption also applies to statutory offence that relates to the case of Cundy v Le Cocq 1884, whereby D was convicted for selling intoxicated liquor to someone who was drunk contrary to s13 Licensing Act 1872, the D argued that the victim show no signs that he was drunk. Strict liability plays an important role when it has to do with public safety, unlike the case of Atkinson v. Sir Alfred McAlpine 1974, whereby the D was convicted of not informing his workers that they were exposed to blue asbestos in their working environment. The statues states that the presumption of mens rea will be kept aside unless it shows that the creation of strict liability will be effective to encourage high level of due diligence and encourage high degree of vigilance to prevent the act from occurring in the future, unlike the case of (Alphacell v Woodward 1972).

The court usually take a huge responsibilities when it comes to social concern, as in the case of (Callow v Tillstone 1900) where the D was convicted of selling meat which was unfit for public consumption, despite there was a vet that declared that the meat was good for consumption. However, the court usually imposes strict liability on firms and individual to encourage high level of due diligence to prevent the act from occurring in the future, similarly to the case of (R v Storkwain 1986) whereby a pharmacist was convicted of supplying drugs without a valid prescription. Both cases look pretty much similar, though the prescription was forged, the pharmacist was charged. My opinion is that it would be fairer in both cases that they would have been convicted on liability for negligent behaviour, giving the innocent a freedom and imposing justice on the wrong doer. It seems unjust to penalize those who have taken care not to engage in criminal activity and is unfair to raise justice for someone that is unaware of any offence created by them for example (Alphacell v Woodward 1972).

Strict liability plays a significant role in the society and serves as advantages by protecting the public from dangerous practices for example, taking a high level of care when producing food for the consumption of the public and there is no threat to liberty. It saves court’s time as there is no mens rea to be proved. If an offence was not one of strict liability, many defendants may escape conviction. The punishments are small and it also acts as a deterrent by discouraging people from repeating the act again in the future. As firms and individuals know more about the rules of strict liability, they have to put on a high standard of care as they know the consequences of being convicted of a criminal offence.

However, some people disagree that it is unjust and unfair for people to be convicted even if they took all reasonable steps to avoid the prohibited offence, as this may serve as a disadvantage to strict liability. Unlike the case of (Larsonneur 1933) whereby the defendant had gone to Ireland after her permission to be in the UK had expired, she was deported from Ireland and brought back to the UK and she was found guilty of being an alien in the UK under the Aliens Order 1920 despite having no intention to return to the UK, this seems unfair and unjust. It is too easy to obtain conviction as mens rea is not considered as long as the actus reus is being committed. It is not always deterrent because the offence of strict liability is not intentionally, contrary to the case of (R v Storkwain 1986). Though the prescription was forged, the pharmacist was convicted still. In the case of (Callow v Tillstone 1900), people like myself can actually be dissuaded from providing food for public consumption due to possible conviction even if I do everything possible to avoid prohibited offence all because I’m avoiding the imposition of strict liability.

Considering unjust and unfairness of convicting innocent firms and individuals who are blameless of an offence they have no knowledge about. People are convicted for an offence of strict liability when the offence violates the public safety. Strict liability is made to protect the public from harm. However, it encourages individuals and firms to put on a high standard of care when dealing with the public. Unlike the case of (Alphacell v Woodward 1972), the D was convicted to encourage other factories to prevent pollution. Thus, if people are not been convicted of an offence of strict liability, the act will keep occurring in the future and this will affect the public safety. It is clear that strict liability serves as a tool used to deter an offence of social concern.

Offences of strict liability are not generally criminal and are issues of social concern and public safety. However, strict liability needs to be equilibrium for the benefit of the public i.e. is obvious that the House of Lords considered strict liability as an important tool to protect the public. However, I strongly agree for the effectiveness of deterrent because individuals and firms will put on a high standard of care to prevent the offence from occurring.

Strict liability should be reformed in such a way that a general defence of due diligence should be taking into consideration in all cases and a minimum form of negligent should be required, which may prevent injustice and unfair conviction.

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