Report No. 29
52. Strict liability.-But, beyond these examples1, lie the cases where the legislature has absolutely forbidden the commission of certain acts under penalty of fine (or imprisonment in default of payment of fine), apart, altogether from the question of mens rea2. That the liability so created is of a quality different from that attaching to ordinary offences requiring mens rea is now well-recognised by the case-law and extensive literature that has grown around these offences. It is not necessary to deal with these offences of "strict liability" at length. As has been said, strict responsibility "has been with us so long that it has become accepted as a necessary evil"3. At the same time, a brief discussion is not out of place.
1. Para. 51, Supra.
2. Cf. Stephen Commentaries on the Laws of England, (1950), Vol. 4,. p. 13.
3. P.J. Fitzgerald, in Block Review of Colin Howard, Strict Responsibility, (1964) 7 Lawyer 41.
53. In this connection, we may quote the following observations of the Privy Council in a recent case1:-
"Where the subject-matter of the statute is the regulation for the public welfare of a particular activity-statutes regulating the sale of food and drink are to be found among the earliest examples-it can be and frequently has been inferred that the legislature intended that such activities should be carried out under the conditions of strict liability. The presumption is that the statute or statutory instrument can be effectively enforced only if those in charge of the relevant activities are made responsible for seeing that they are complied with. When such a presumption is to be inferred, it displaces the ordinary presumption of mens rea. Thus sellers of meat may be made responsible for seeing that the meat is fit for human consumption and it is no answer for them to say that they were not aware that it was polluted. If that were a satisfactory answer, then as Kennedy, L.J., pointed out in Hobbs v. Winchester Corporation, (1910) 2 KB 471, the distribution of bad meat (and its far-reaching consequences) would not be effectively prevented. So a publican may be made responsible for observing the condition of his customers2."
In other words, these are cases in which-"Intention to commit a breach of the statute need not be shown. The breach in fact is enough3-4."
1. Lim Chin Aik v. The Queen, 1968 AC 160: (1963) 1 All ER 223 (228) (PC).
2. Cundy v. Le Coca, 1884 LR 13 QBD 207.
3. Cf. Lord Wright in McLeod v. Buchanan, (1940) 2 All ER 179 (186) (HL) (Case under section 35, Road Traffic Act, 1930, requiring insurance against third party risks).
4. See also para 59, infra.