Strict liability in criminal law is the idea that a person can be held criminally responsible for their action if in violation of the law even without mens rea, or awareness that their act was in fact a crime. In instances where this principle is applied the Court does not consider mens rea. A few requirements for the same include:
- Mens Rea not mentioned as compulsory under statute
- Analysis of analogous sections of the committed offence
- Context of crime
- Severity of the offence committed
- Severity of punishment for said offence
State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George
In this case a German smuggler brought gold to India was charged under Section 23(1A) (a) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act of 1947 for not informing the RBI. This main contention that the defendant drew was that he was unaware of the provision in existence. The High Court of Bombay acquitted him of the charges, but the Supreme Court on the appeal filed by the state contended that even though there was no mens rea involved, and only actus reus the person could not be held liable for the commission of the crime. But if the person was acquitted then the legislative intent of the act would not be fulfilled. In light of this idea, the Supreme Court convicted the defendant for a crime based on actus reus alone, even without involvement of mens rea.
Sweet v Parsley
In the case at hand, the defendant lady used to rent her land to students. She was arrested as the students used to smoke cannabis there, which was a criminal offence. The defendant was not aware of the fact that an illegal act was conducted, but since she rent the land to the students her responsibility in the said offence was looked into.
Since the act was happening in her premises she was convicted as “liable without fault.” The House of Lords however overthrew this judgement and let her go. The most important facet in this case in terms of criminal jurisprudence was that it laid down the basic principles for strict liability in crime. There were conditions set forth wherein a person could be held guilty without mens rea. These conditions include the following:
- Wherever a section is silent as to mens rea there is a presumption that, in order to give effect to the will of Parliament, words importing mens rea must be read into the provision.
- It is a universal principle that if a penal provision is reasonably capable of two interpretations, that interpretation which is most favourable to the accused must be adopted.
- The fact that other sections of the Act expressly require mens rea is not in itself sufficient to justify a decision that a section which is silent as to mens rea creates an absolute offence. It is necessary to go outside the Act and examine all relevant circumstances in order to establish that this must have been the intention of Parliament.
 Sweet v Parsley,  AC 132 (HL)
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