Strict Liability
Q. Discuss the law relating to strict liability which excludes mensrea in criminal case.(1999)(1996)(1993)(2004/A)(2005/A)
Q. How does liability accure without default (1998).
Q. Ignorance of law is no excuse? Discuss with reference to mistake of law and mistake of fact.(1997)
1. Introduction:
The liability is the ultimate purpose of the law because the wrong-doer must make up or suffer for he has already failed in doing what he ought to have done a man may be punished for wrong done, even if he has no guilty mind or at fault. These are wrongs of strict liability.
2. Strict Liability:
Wrongs which do not require either wrongful intent or negligence are know as the wrongs of strict liability. In such cases, a person in punished for committing wrongs even if he has no guilty mind.
3. Relevant For Strict Liability:
Strict liability is imposed chiefly where it will be hard to prove by evidence the intention or negligence of the offender.
4. Strict Liability In Statutory Context:
The presence in or absence from the definition of the offence, of the word “Knowingly” or a similar word require mensrea is of great importance but not conclusive.
“Sweet vs parsley (1970)”
“Where the section of the Act expressly require mensrea, for example because they contain the word “Knowingly” is not itself sufficient to justify a decision that a section which is silent as to mensrea, creates an absolute offence.”
5. Strict Liability In Civil Cases:
Mensrea is generally irrelevant in civil proceedings as the object is to compensate the plaintiff for his loss and not punish the defendant, so the rule of strict liability is generally applied civil cases.
In certain civil actions, the object of the law is to punish the defendant and strict liability is not imposed e.g malicious prosecution, negligence etc.
6. Strict Liability In Criminal Cases:
Generally in criminal cases, there is no criminal liability unless mensrea is present and strict liability is not imposed.
Following are exception at common law to the rule requiring mensrea or where rule of strict liability is imposed.
(i)Public Nuisance:
In the public nuisance any employer might be held liable for the act of his employer even though he himself did not know it had taken place.
(ii)Criminal Libel:
In criminal libel a newspapers proprietor is liable for libels punished by his employers.
(iii)Contempt of Court:
In criminal contempt of court intention or negligence need be proved.
(iv)Outraging Public Decency:
This offence require a proof of conduct of obscene nature, as to result in an outrage to public decency.
7. First Case On Strict Liability:
The case which has been said to be the first to impose strict liability is Woodrow.
“Case of Woodrow(1846)”
Defendant was found guilty of having in his possession adulterated tobacco, although he did not know it was adulterated.
Defendant was held liable even if the adulteration was discoverable only by a nice chemical analysis.”
8. Liability Is Strict Not Absolute:
The liability is strict but not absolute in offences of strict liability.
There is not reason why all other defences should not be available as they are in the case of offences requiring full mensrea. Even when dangerous driving was an offence of strict liability it was held to be a defence, if defendant was in state of automatism when he drove the vehicle so insanity, necessity, duress or coercion should be available equally on a charge of offence of strict liability as in the case of any other offence.
9. Catagories Of wrongs Of Strict Liability:
The most important wrongs of strict liability fall into three catagories.
(I)Mistake Of Law:
Absolute responsibility in the case of a mistaken of law is based on the following maxim.
“Ignorantia juris enminem excusat.”
(Ignorance of law is not excuse)
Even if a person commits an offence on account of a mistake of law, that is no excuse in the eye of law. He is liable to be punished although he had no guilty mind at the time of committing the offence.
(i)Reasons for Mistake of Law is Not Considered As Defence:
a. Law is the embodiment of common sense and natural justice and hence must be obeyed.
b. Law both can be should be limited in extent.
c. According to Salmond, the law is in legal theory definite and knowable, it is the duty of every man to know that part of it which concerns him, therefore innocent and inevitable ignorance of law is impossible.
d. According to Austin, if ignorance of law were a ground of exemption the administration of justice would be arrested. For in almost every case, ignorance of law would be alleged.
There are certain exceptions to the general rule that the ignorance of law is no excuse.
  1. Ignorance of special law is excusable. No person can be held guilty for the violation of the foreign law of any country.
  2. It also dose not apply to the rules of equity as developed in England.
(II)Mistake Of Fact:
Absolute responsibility of mistake of fact can be disussed under the following heads.
(i)Mistake of Fact in Criminal Cases:
In criminal cases, mistake of fact is a good defence against strict liability. If a person dose something under a mistake without intending to do which he actually dose, he is not criminally liable for his action.
A police constable goes to arrest ‘X’ to be ’X’ but arrest ‘Y’ THINKING ‘y’ to be ‘X’ he is not guilty of any crime.
(ii)Mistake of fact in Civil Cases:
In the case of civil law, a mistake of fact involves liability.
According to Salmond:
“It is the general principal of law that he who intentionally or semi-intentionally interferes with the person, property, reputation or other rightful interests of another, does as his peril”
(III)Inevitable Accident:
Inevitable accident is that, which avoidance requires a degree of care exceeding the standard demanded by law. It is commonly regarded as a ground of exemption from liability in civil and criminal cases. There is no intention because the consequences are not desired in the case of an accident.
There is one important exception to the above rule in civil law. There are cases in which the law provides that a man shall at his peril and shall take his chance if an accident happens.
“Rylands vs Fletcher”
“It was held that if a person brings or accumulates on his land anything which if escapes and causes damage to his neighbours he is responsible, however careful he may have taken to prevent damage.”
10. Conclusion:
To conclude, I can say, that law imposes strict liability mostly on cases in which high standard of care is required like food, drugs etc to save people from the negligent acts of others. The greater the degree of social danger, the more likely is the offence to be interpreted as one strict liability.

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