The Concept Of Mens Rea

Criminal law deals with punishing individuals who have committed a crime and criminal behavior. It contains laws and procedures related to the crimes committed or any acts.  

Actus reus and mens rea are the basic terms used in the criminal justice system and also constitute an important part of criminal law. 

Most of the crimes committed have an intension behind it I.e., guilty mind(mens rea) and guilty act (actus rea). The essence of criminal law has been said to lie in the maxim- “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. Earlier around the 12th century this was not the case, the offender was punished regardless if there was intension to commit the crime or not. ‘There can be no crime without a guilty mind’. This above mentioned maxim cleared the conflict that a crime can only be said to be constituted where the action was done in accordance of a guilty intention. 

Mens Rea or the mental element of crime is a very important part of criminal law in India as well as other countries. Most laws in India contain the element of guilty mind so as to make an act by a person criminally liable for punishment. 

It is important that the prosecution proves mens rea. Mens rea needs to have happened along with actus rea. In a given case if murder needs to be proved like any other criminal offence, the actus reus and the mens rea for murder must be present but where the mens rea is absent, it is said to be involuntary murder. 

All the definitions of crime are carefully defined with focus on showing the evil intention for doing the act. Usage of words like – intentionally, fraudulently, knowingly, voluntarily etc. emphasis the presence of Doctrine of Mens Rea. 

Applicability of mens rea is only exempted in cases which are not criminal in nature. For example, environment pollution cases and other similar cases 

 R. vs. Prince (1875 LR 2 CCR 154), in this case the Defendant Henry Prince was convicted for taking a 14-year-old unmarried girl named Annie Phillips out of the possession and without the consent of her parents. At trial, the jury found that although the girl was 14 at the time, she had told Defendant and he had reasonably believed that she was 18. The statute he was convicted under was silent as to the mental state required to make the act a crime. Defendant appeals. The defendant was charged with abduction case.   
 
The Court held that “Mistake of fact does not stand as a defense to a crime where the statute making the act a crime contains no requirement of knowledge of that fact to begin with. In this case the forbidden act is wrong in itself and the legislature has enacted that if anyone does this act, he does so at his own risk. The dissent believes that there can be no conviction of a crime without a finding of criminal intent mens rea. A reasonable mistake of fact, where the mistaken belief, if true, would not have resulted in the defendant committing a criminal act, should be an excuse that is implied in all criminal charges”. 
 
Hari Prasad Rao vs. State (AIR 1951 SC 204) 

In this case, a servant of a petrol dealer supplied motor spirit without coupons and in some cases took advance coupons from the consumers, without supplying them the spirit, which was an offence under the Motor Rationing Order, 1941. 

The Supreme Court held that there were no grounds for conviction of the master, especially when he was not present at the time of delivery of the spirit. He, however, was convicted for non-endorsement on coupons by his servant which was mandatory and an absolute rule. Non-observance of such statutory rules was punishable even without mens rea. 

References, 

https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/judiciary/r-v-prince-1875-mistake-of-fact-4836.asp

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