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LAW 2599 Criminal Law

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Question:

Justification for Strict Liability Offences

Surprisingly, as noted above, there are a large number of strict liability offences on the statute books. 

Yet, arguably, strict liability offences remove some of the protections for defendants, so why are they so popular? Examine reasons justifying the use of strict liability offences. 

  1. Protection of the Public through Regulation

In the case of Lemon [1979] AC 617, the House of Lords outlined the justification for including strict liability offences:

‘The usual justification for creating by statute a criminal offence of strict liability, in which the prosecution need not prove mens rea as to one of the elements of the actus reus, is the threat that the actus reus of the offence poses to public health, public safety, public morals or public order.’ (Per Lord Diplock)

The types of offences which protect public health and safety often relate to regulation of a particular activity, for example food production, the protection of the environment, and health and safety more generally. The thought is that strict liability in these types of offences acts as a deterrent for non-compliance with the law, which in a profit-making environment deters profit-increasing shortcuts which are detrimental to public safety. The argument is that these are offences which amount to regulation of public safety rather than true criminal offences. In Sherras v De Rutzen [1895] 1 QB 918 the court stated that ‘strict liability offences are not criminal in any real sense but acts which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty’ (Per Wright J). 

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