Law of Torts - Strict Liability

Fundamental principle of criminal law requires guilty mind besides actus reus to prove crime. This known as Actus Reus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea. But strict is an exception to it. Here mens rea not required to be proved. If the act is silent on mens rea the court will presume either mens rea needed or not needed. But the presumption is rebuttable.


A crime of strict liability is one of which mens rea is not required to be proved.

Nature of Strict Liability

Usually strict liability is a creation of statute. In England it was originated from the Prince’s case (1874). In Malaysia it was said that no strict liability case since Penal Code provides requirement of mens rea. But the court follows English Law in the case of Lim Chin Aik v R (1963) where mens rea must be proved.


Generally no defence of mistake and accident for strict liability. Some writers Sonarjah argue that only justifiable defence available.

PP v Ali Umar - - necessity

PP v Ayavo - - involuntariness


Superior Order

Public Authority


But some argue in excusable defence like infancy, insanity, intoxication, and Duress should include. For example if infant commits strict liability and were punished, it does not serve the purpose of strict liability cases.

Duress – someone put a gun at the head and asked to speed over the limits can he plead duress?

Example of Strict Liability Cases

1. Traffic reg.

2. Illegal liquor

3. Adultered food

4. Narcotics act

5. Environmental customs fisheries law

Strict Liability v Mistake of Law

PP v Koo Cheh Yew - - must differentiate:-

1. Mistake to existence of law (no defence)

2. Knowledge of existence of Actus Reus as elements of defence.

If the offence is strict liability then the (2) is no defence also because strict liability cases no need mens rea. But if some strict liability needs mens rea then knowledge must prove.

Strict Liability and Its Principle

Seriousness of Crime

Sweet v Parsley - - mens rea required.

Wording of Statutes

If section is silent about mens rea but other section require mens rea, court will regard no mens rea is needed to prove. Court will also look at the intention of the parliament. Whether to protect immoral act.

Mohd Ibrahim v PP - - buku lucah – held strict liability case.

Possession cases need mens rea to be proved

R v Mc Namara - - drug case - knowingly

Regulatory or Quasi Criminal

Offences like not moral issue involved – please refer to the case of Pharm. Society Gr. Britain v Storkwill Ltd.

Arguments of Strict Liability

In Favor of Strict Liability

1. Harm prevention

2. Public protection

3. Efficiency – guilty people cant run away

4. No threat to liberty – usually only fine.

As against Strict Liability

1. Strict Liability unnecessary blameless people were charged.

2. Application in the case of Cheah Eng Joo v R and the case of Ayavoo v PP

3. Unjust – Smedleys v Breed - - a caterpillar in a tin peas.

See also related cases.
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