Application of Mens Rea

A crime is a wrongful act done with a guilty mind. These are the two essential ingredients that make up criminal liability. The concept of mens rea developed in England around the 1600s, when the judges began emphasising on the role of intent in determining criminal liability. Crimes with mens rea can be categorised into two variants; crimes of basic intent and crimes of specific intent. In case of the former, the mens rea is restricted and confined to the wrongful act. The wrongful act itself is a result of what was intended by the offender. However, the latter goes beyond the prohibited act and the foresight of its consequence has a purposive element.
The mental element may either be an intention to do the immediate act or it may concern with the recklessness as a consequence of such an act. Some crimes just need purpose, whereas others may be committed with an underlying motivation or in anticipation of what follows next.

In Director of Enforcement (v) MCTM Corporation Pvt. Ltd., the Supreme Court held that unless a guilty intention is found for commission of the crime, the person cannot be held guilty of committing the crime and hence criminal liability would not arise.
The Supreme Court affirmed in Nathu Lal (v) State of MP that mens rea is a necessary ingredient of a crime. Although a statute may prohibit it, it will continue to be a strong rule of construction used in England and recognised in India to construe a legislative provision that creates an offence in accordance with the common law.

Many major crimes require the prosecution to establish that the conduct was done knowing it was unlawful and with intent, unless the legislation expressly or by necessity precludes mens rea. The fundamental concept most well recognised in the legal world is the renowned aphorism “actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea.”

The question to be answered is whether mens rea is required in all instances. In Deepa and ors. (V) S.I. of Police and anr., it was decided that a charge must feel for lack of mens rea in most cases, but that in other cases, mens rea is not necessary.
The honourable bench of the Allahabad High Court decided in Lal Behari (v) State (E) that no mens rea is necessary for a contempt of court offence. It is not necessary to have an intentional aim or motivation while doing an action.

Mens rea is an important component of an offence, but it is also a construction rule. If a legislation and common law clash, the statute is changed to conform to the common law. It is absurd to comprehend that common law cannot be changed. Parliament can change or abolish common law in the exercise of its constitutional powers. Therefore, the existence of mens rea as an essential ingredient of an offence has to be determined from the statute.

Aishwarya Says:

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