ACTUS REUS & MENS REA
“It is not enough to label the statute as one dealing with a grave social evil and from that to infer that Strict Liability was intended. It is pertinent also to inquire whether putting the defendant under strict liability will assist in enforcement of regulations unless this is so, there is no reason in penalizing and it cannot be inferred that the legislature imposed strict liability merely to find a luckless victim.” In the light of this statement, elucidate the doctrine of strict liability under criminal law.
The whole concept of crime is based upon two things: –
• Actus Reus
• Mens Rea
There are the main ingredients of every crime and if law wants to held an accused liable for the commission of a crime, then it is required to prove actus reus and mens rea simultaneously. Because our justice delivery system follows the principle of “actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea” which means that an act without guilty intention is not punishable.
If a person commits a crime, then the burden of proof is upon prosecution to prove the commission of crime by an accused beyond reasonable doubt and if prosecution fails to prove any ingredient of crime, then it cannot secure the punishment to offender.
In case of commission of a crime, it is very easy to prove actus reus but to prove the mens rea is not an easy task. This is so because it deals with the mind of an offender and if prosecution fails to prove the guilty intention of an accused, then court has to give benefit of doubt to the offender and to release him.
In the leading case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra (SC, 1965), the Hon’ble Court held that an act without guilty intention is not punishable. If the prosecution wants to prove that the offender has committed a crime then he has to prove that the offender has committed the crime with guilty intention.
So, it is crystal clear that according to the India Legal System, if a person commits a crime, he can be convicted only if he has committed a crime with guilty intention. If the accused had no guilty intention to commit the crime, then in such a case, he cannot be convicted for the commission of that crime.
To remove such kind of situations in cases of socio- economic offences, the concept of strict liability has been introduced by the legislature. According to the concept of strict liability, there is no need to prove mens rea and an offender can be held liable on the basis of actus reus only. With the introduction of this concept, it does not mean that the court has discretion to decide in which cases mens rea has to be proved or in which cases there is no need to prove it. It totally depends upon legislature prudence.
In the leading case of State of Maharashtra v. M.H. George (SC 1965), the Hon’ble Apex Court held that in case of strict liability, there is no need to prove mens rea. Moreover, it is not discretion of court to determine in which offences Mens Rea has to be proved and in which offences it is not required to be proved.
It is function of Parliament and it can decide the offences in which Mens Rea is not required to be proved. If the statute is not clear and the court cannot judge the intention of Parliament then in such case the court will analyze the nature and object of the act, intention of the legislature, impact of an offence upon society, historical background of the statute etc.
Every crime has to be read with subject to mens rea unless the legislature clearly mentions that there is no need to prove mens rea. If the legislature fails to mention it explicitly, but the court thinks that legislature wanted to provide an exception then in that case, the court has to see various things to reach at a proper result and these things are:-
• Nature and object of an act
• Historical background of the statute if any
• Intention of legislature as gathered from statute
• The impact of law upon society etc. to ascertain whether the legislature wanted to impose strict liability and remove the requirement of mens rea.
If from all these things it is clear that legislature wanted to impose strict liability then court can hold the offender liable only on the basis of Actus Reus.
That is why, it is rightly said that it is not enough to label the statute as one dealing with grave social evil and from that to infer that strict liability was intended. The court has to analyse various things to ascertain the intention of legislature.