Strict Liability in Criminal Law Essay

Strict Liability in Criminal Law Essay

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It is the purpose of this essay to discuss whether the implementation
of strict liability within criminal law system is a necessary means
for combating crime, and if there is any justification for its use.

Strict liability is the placing of liability upon the defendant(s),
regardless of whether or not mens rea is present. This can include
instances of negligence, carelessness or accident. There are a number
of arguments for and against strict liability, and this essay will
identify and explore these arguments.

It is often argued that by promoting high standards of care, strict
liability protects the liberty of the public from dangerous practices.
Barbara Wootton (Crime and Criminal Law: reflections of a Magistrates
and Social Scientist, 1981, p.256-258) defends strict liability on
this basis, suggesting that the objective of criminal law is to
prevent ‘socially damaging activities’. In support of this, it is
suggested by Elliot and Quinn (Criminal Law, 2000, p.32) that-

‘It would be absurd to turn a blind eye to those who cause harm due to
carelessness, negligence or even an accident’.

This approach appears to be stringent. One might be inclined to
suggest that accident is part of human nature, and in applying strict
liability to even the most honest mistakes, a satisfactory outcome may
not be achieved. One example of this is found in Smedleys v Breed
(1974). The defendants were convicted under the Food and Drugs act
1955, after a caterpillar was found in a tin of peas. Despite the fact
that individual inspection of each pea would not have prevented the
offence being committed, Lord Hailsham defended the imposition of

... middle of paper ...

...seen as being morally unsatisfactory.

List of Cases

Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney-General of Hong Kong [1985] AC1, PC
29, 30, 31, 33, 34

Smedleys v Breed [1974] AC 839; [1979] 2 All ER 21; [1974] 2 WLR 525
36, 37


Elliott, Catherine & Quinn, Frances (2000) ‘Criminal Law- 3rd
edition’, Longman

Molan, Michael (2003) ‘Criminal Law- 4th edition’, Old Bailey Press

Roe, Diana (2002) ‘Criminal Law- 2nd edition’, Hodder and Stoughton

Smith, J.C & Hogan, B (1992) ‘Criminal Law’ London: Butterworths

Wootton, Barbara (1981) ‘Crime and the Criminal Law: reflections of a
Magistrates and Social Scientist’, Oxford: Clarendon


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