In criminal law, strict liability refers to those crimes where the defendant is found to be guilty regardless of whether he or she was aware that such a particular act was criminal offense. Asif Tufal provides a close analysis of strict liability exploring a number of cases that expound on strict liability. He defines strict liability as “those crimes which do not require mens rea with regard to least or more elements of the actus reus. (1)
Mens rea is a latin term that refers to a guilty mind. Mens rea has been for long used in the common laws as a test that someone is guilty of a criminal offense holding that actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. This basically means that the law does not hold someone to be guilty if his or her mind is not guilty. A person is not considered guilty of a crime if by the time of committing the act he did not have knowledge of its criminality.
The general rule in the common law is that ‘proof of blame is a prerequisite to the imposition of criminal liability,” but with the development of strict liability, “the defendant can be convicted even though he or she had no mens rea and was not blameworthy in any other way. ’ (Christopher M. , 2005) Christopher M. (2005) traces the path towards the development of strict liability noting that it was introduced in the 19th century. Strict liability was imposed to make the law more adaptive o the social changes especially as brought forth by the industrial revolution.
Strict liability imbues a sense of dutiful care and ensures that people are more efficient in their work. It places a burden for example on a manufacturer to ensure that the innocent public is not harmed by its products. In Alphacell Ltd v Woodward (1972), the company was held liable of pollution despite the fact that it was not in a position of knowing or predicting that its effluent would end up in to the river as it had erected a well maintained equipment to prevent any leakage (Allen, 2005).
There are a number of conditions that have to be fulfilled when determining whether to impose a strict liability as was ruled in Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney General for Hong Kong in 1984. The basic assumption in criminal law is that mens rea is a precondition for a person to be liable of a criminal offense; this is mostly where the offense committed is criminal. This presumption “applies to statutory offenses and can be displaced only if this is clearly or by necessarily implication the effect of the statute. (Asif Tufal)
The only instance where strict liability is imposed is where social concerns are raised or where its imposition will result to a greater attainment of the statutes objective. David (2007) exploring further the topic of strict liability analyses the interpretive role of the courts in regard to the laws made by the legislature in the United States. He notes that, ‘because of the importance of mens rea to our criminal justice system, courts apply a presumption against strict liability in such cases. ” This is in reference to instances where criminal statutes are mum on mens rea.
The court applies strict liability after close analysis of what the law in its original form wished to accomplish. It is apparent that strict liability was introduced to imbue a sense of social regulation especially where the existing statutes are silent on where the burden lies. With advancements in technology and the changes in the society, strict liability is important as it ensures that people take dutiful care to protect the innocent public from undergoing any harm from their acts of omission or commission.