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All you need to know about strict liability

Strict liability is an interesting part of UK law, and is one that everybody should certainly be clued up on, especially if they need to be present in court or have been accused of a crime themselves.

Basically, strict liability is when the accused can be convicted without mens rea present, as long as the actus reus is there: strict liability means that an individual can be found guilty.

Technical terms

If you’re not familiar with the technical legal jargon, then basically:

Mens rea is the thought process behind doing a crime, is is the latin word for guilty mind, or more so: intent. Crimes are usually assessed for mens rea in deciding whether a perpetrator is guilty or not of a premeditated crime. If it is found that they did not intend to conduct a malicious act, (and therefore no mens rea is present) then they are likely to face a lesser conviction than those who are found to have mens rea.

Whereas actus reus is the actual act of the crime. If actus reus is present than an individual is guilty of that crime. If mens rea and actus reus is present than an individual can expect a solid punishment, if actus reus is present but not mens rea then charges are usually more lenient.

What cases are subject to strict liability?

Court cases are usually awash with the judge and jury deciding on whether actus reus and mens rea is present, but strict liability cases are where this differs. These cases entail that the guilty party can be found as such even if they do not have mens rea, it is usually in cases where the crime matches the sentence fairly whether intent was there or not. Typical cases that fall under strict liability are:

  • Health and safety claims targeted as businesses
  • Driving offences such as speeding and driving under the influence
  • Some criminal cases (this, however, is where it becomes controversial)

Criminal cases which involve strict liability are heavily debated and can become controversial, therefore the utmost care and attention is needed when it comes to laying out the terms of strict liability for such cases. Some are black and white (such as health and safety) and some are less transparent.

When did strict liability come into practice?

Strict liability emerged in the 19th Century to improve safety and working standards in factories and was primarily targeted at health and safety issues. However, as time progresses so does the need for this rule and now it can be applied to a number of cases in which the judge and jurors see fit.

The general rules of strict liability

The general consensus around strict liability is:

  1. The crime does not need mens rea to determine a guilty party
  2. The crime is one of social concern
  3. The offence carries a small penalty

The deciding of whether a case comes under strict liability is down to the individual case and its terms, but if you believe that your case may fall under these rules and are worried about this then get in touch with DPP Law today for expert legal advice and support.