Understanding Strict Liability

Strict liability example

Strict liability does not require mens rea

To prove a criminal act, one must prove that the accused had a guilty mind together with the guilty act (mens rea and actus rea respectively). This procedure has been adopted by law and is integral towards ensuring that an innocent person is not punished.

In the nineteenth century however, prosecutors found it almost impossible to convict an accused especially with regard to the safety standards in factories. Factory owners were found to be highly irresponsible and that caused injuries and fatalities among the workers. However, since the prosecutors could not prove a “guilty mind” (as the defense always stated that the owners had no intention to cause those injuries although they did not act responsibly), such people, could not be prosecuted. That is when the strict liability law was enacted where one need not prove mens rea to convict another in certain cases.

One of the classic strict liability examples would be the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain vs. Storkwain in 1986. In this case, a patient forged a prescription and brought it to a pharmacist. The pharmacist gave medication as per the “prescription”. Eventually, the forgery was detected and a case was charged. Interestingly, the case was charged against the pharmacist for supplying the medicine.

Now for a nonprofessional, this may seem awkward. What has the pharmacist have to do with giving medicine to a prescription that he had no idea was forged? The first court that heard the case thought so too and dismissed the case.

The appellate court however thought different. Under the strict liability law that was in brought in force, the pharmacist had a duty of checking whether the prescription was genuine or not. In this case, mens rea of wanting to provide medicines without prescription was not required to be proved. Instead, only the actus rea was to be proved which was done so quite easily.

Strict liability law

Strict liability includes dereliction of duty

These strict liability examples have many lessons for students of law as well as the ordinary citizen. Dereliction of duty is an offense and ignorance of laws that requires one to follow strict procedure is not an excuse! Secondly, one should look at different angles and provisions provided by law while arguing a case. The second of these is especially required for advocates who hope to be successful in the field of law.

Strict liability is however not used in every case. In the US for example, the law is invoked for minor offenses as obviously, bringing this to other criminal acts would lead to miscarriage of justice.