white black legal international law journal ISSN: 2581-8503

Peer-Reviewed Journal | Indexed at Manupatra, HeinOnline, Google Scholar & ROAD

The Concept Of ‘Strict Liability’ Under Criminal Law In India by - Neha

The Concept Of ‘Strict Liability’ Under Criminal Law In India

Authored by - Neha



In a civilized society, the rights and duties of a person is regulated by the law of the land. The violation of these rights and duties is considered a wrong, and the person is made liable for that. The remedy of the wrong is enforced by the state through its organized force, in the form of liability. Basically, liability arises from the wrong or breach of a legal duty. The main purpose of imposing a penal liability is to punish the wrongdoer.


The basic principle of our criminal jurisprudence is ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ which means an act alone does not amount to crime, unless it is accompanied by the guilty intention. Therefore, to constitute a crime both elements i.e., act and guilty mind is essential. No person can be punished merely because his act resulted into a crime unless that person has any guilty intention while doing that act. But strict liability is an exception to this general principle of criminal jurisprudence[1].



 Basically, a person is held liable for his negligence if it results into harm for other persons. But there are some exceptions to this general rule. Strict liability is one of them. In this a person is held liable for his act even though he did not intend to do that. In strict liability, there is a violation of an absolute duty.


The word strict denotes that it is not essential for the injured party to prove any guilty intention on the part of the accused person and no amount of care and caution proved by the accused would absolve him from the liability. In strict liability it is not seen that why the person does that act. Only important is that the person do the act, it is enough to construct strict liability on him.





 The House of Lords established the rule of strict liability in tort in Rylands v. Fletcher[2], holding that a person can be found accountable for harm even if he was not negligent, had no intent to do harm, or had made some good attempts to avoid it. While damages are the remedy in tort law, the defendant is punished under criminal law. However, comparable meaning cannot be used to impose severe culpability on offenders. Being condemned to prison or even receiving a judicial reprimand cannot be considered a tax or a business transaction. For the sake of clarity, the term "strict responsibility" will be used in a criminal context from now on. The author has analyzed the instances of strict liability in criminal law from two perspective that is:


[3.1] INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860:

The concept of strict liability has been enumerated in IPC in various sections that defines offence against the state and its sovereignty, offence against the public interest, offence against public morality etc. As all these offences are of serious nature that’s why even only the act is made punishable. The instance of different sections is given below:



            Rising up against the state or authority has traditionally been regarded as a high-level act of treason. Any action that produces disruption against a government, whether it be a preparation, abetment, or attempt to wage war, must be stopped in its tracks, regardless of whether the offender intended to do so or not. This offence is reflected in the action. This infraction is listed in the law because a person should evaluate his or her own actions before taking them. Sometimes the activity causes so much damage that the injury is irreversible. It makes no difference whether the person has the to do so or not. This offence is considered a very series crime that’s why the punishment, death penalty is provided for this offence.




[3.1.2] SECTION 124 (SEDITION):

The law of sedition in India has been regarded as a contentious offence, owing to its strong restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, which is granted under Article 19 (1) I of the Indian Constitution. This law is established in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 124 A and 153A, as well as other statutes. This crime is based on the premise that the state should have the authority to penalize those who, through their conduct, imperil the state's stability and safety, or cause public disorder. If such measures are not curtailed in their early phases, the state's very existence will be jeopardized. Therefore, the principle of mens reus cannot be made applicable in such offence, only the single act in itself is punishable.


[3.1.3] SECTION 268 (NUISANCE):

 This is an acknowledgment of the civil concept that asserts that while one can enjoy his or her own property, one cannot injure another's right while doing so. This implies that one should exercise his right in relation to his obligation of non-interference in the rights of others. It makes no difference whether you intended to cause such annoyance or not. If you create common hurt, danger, or irritation to the public or persons at large in reference to their public rights, you will be held liable for such nuisance. In this case, intent is irrelevant. You will be solely responsible for your actions. There will be a presumption of guilt.


[3.1.4] SECTION 375 (RAPE):

The second exception to this provision establishes the idea of statutory rape, which states that a man who has sexual intercourse with his wife under the age of 15 years with her consent is guilty of rape. It makes no difference whether the man intended it that way or not. The mens rea, or criminal intent, is presumed in this case. He is accountable for the violation since he had intercourse with her wife when she was under the age of 15. Furthermore, the sixth description of the same provision stipulates that if a female is fully consenting to a sexual act but is under the age of 18, the consensual sexual act shall be construed as a case of statutory rape. It will be rape because the law expressly allows it. It makes no difference whether the people have guilty intention or not. Because of the provision, even a legitimate sexual act in a bona fide relationship can be considered rape.





Apart from these provisions, there are some other statutes also which imposes the principle of strict liability. these statutes have been enacted in the interest of general public. For Example; the Arms Act, the Motor Vehicle Act, the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances act, 1985, etc. In Motor Vehicle Act, regardless of the care used by the two parties, the law of strict responsibility holds the injurer accountable. Prior to 1988, the injurer's culpability for motor vehicle accidents was mostly based on fault. However, an element of strict liability was added to the Act in 1988. The NDPS Act has a number of stringent rules, the majority of which are based on strict liability. Several offences have strict liability, which means that no intent to commit a crime is required; the supposed offenders have the burden of proof, and bail restrictions are stringent. The notion of "strict liability, or of “no-fault theory," is incorporated into Section 3 of the Public Insurance Act. In case of   death, damage, or Injury, the owner is made liable to compensate the claimant.



[4.1] One of the basic goals of criminal law is to safeguard fundamental social interests, hence it is founded on protectionism or "social defense." Certain areas, such as the sale of food, medical drugs, and alcohol, pose a risk to others. As a result, we cannot merely require corporations or individuals who are about to engage in a potentially harmful activity to take reasonable efforts to prevent injury, but to go above and beyond. Imposing strict liability rather than negligence may encourage the corporation to take every precaution to avoid pollution.


[4.2] The offence is purely a criminal one, and a punishment is imposed regardless of fault, whether proven or presumed, in order to encourage more cautious behavior in the future. As a result, the case should be moved out of the criminal court system and treated as an administrative matter, similar to the application of penalties for late filing of income tax reports.


[4.3] Although the offence is criminal, the presence of the result creates a strong presumption of guilt. The element of liability does not need to be shown at trial in this case. The occurrence of the objective event, namely the sale of tainted medications or food, raises the possibility of culpable negligence on the part of the supervising personnel.

[4.4] Wrongdoer faces the possibility that their actions will be worse than they anticipated. For instance, if a man commits a malicious assault on another and the victim turns out to be a public official, the perpetrator should be prosecuted for the aggravated crime of assaulting a police officer.


[4.5] The most common argument given in favor of strict liability is that the interests of the general public requires that the highest possible standards of care be taken care by people engaged in various forms of conduct or activity.

The Roscoe Pound writes:

“The courts' good sense has developed a notion of acting at one's peril in relation to statutory offences, which embodies societal demands. Such laws are not intended to punish the vicious, but rather to compel the careless and inept to do their full responsibility in the sake of public health, safety, and morals[3]”.



[5.1] At the present time, strict liability is an unjust anachronism that runs counter to the majority of criminal law evolution.


[5.2] The imposition of stringent liability acts as a deterrence to potential wrongdoers, but the deterrent hypothesis in general does not provide a satisfying explanation for punishment.


[5.3] Some experts contend that there is no evidence that strict liability crimes are more effective than negligence-based offences in deterring harmful acts, and that convicting defendants who acted reasonably but unpredictably caused harm would be unjust. Convicting such individuals will erode the stigma associated with a criminal conviction, putting the boundary between criminal and civil law at jeopardy. People will be discouraged from engaging in socially good business activities as a result of this.


[5.4] It is considered unjust and a violation of criminal liability's fundamental foundations. Under stringent liability, a man could have taken all reasonable precautions to avoid committing the offence and still be held accountable. As a result, it is suggested that it does not encourage law-abiding behavior.

 “Punishing behavior without considering the actor's mental condition is both ineffective and unjust. It is ineffective because conduct that is unaccompanied by an understanding of the factors that make it criminal does not identify the actor as someone who needs to be punished in order to deter him or others from behaving in the same way in the future, nor does it identify him as a socially dangerous individual who needs to be incapacitated or reformed. It is an unjust actor who is stigmatized by a criminal sentence despite not being naturally blameworthy."[4]



 In Queen v Prince[5], the court observed that Henry Prince was prosecuted and found guilty of unlawfully removing Annie Phillips, an unmarried girl under the age of sixteen, from her father's possession and against his will. It was established that the accused had a reasonable belief that the girl was older than sixteen, and the jury determined on reasonable evidence that before the accused took her away, she told him she was eighteen, and that the accused had a reasonable belief in that assertion. If there is no legal justification for the prohibited behavior, it is illegal in and of itself. An erroneous belief about the girl's age, even if based on reasonable grounds, is no defense to a conviction of kidnapping.


In Harrow London Borough Council v Shah[6], the court observed that the sale of a lottery ticket to someone under the age of sixteen is a strict liability offence. A reasonable notion that the boy was at least 16 years old is not a defense. According to the court, this legislation addresses a societal issue. More specifically, there is widespread public concern that young people should be denied legal access to a gaming facility that is otherwise easily available to them. The strict liability that this violation carries will inspire more attention in preventing the forbidden act from being committed.


In State of Maharashtra v Mayer Hans George[7], the court observed that the legislature's objective in enacting the prohibition set forth in section 52A is to, among other things, put an end to unlawful smuggling, which has the consequence of severely disrupting the country's national economy. For example, it is generally known that gold smuggling has become a severe problem in this country, with smuggling activities being carried out by foreign operators. The intent, purpose, and efficacy of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947 would be thwarted if mens rea were to be interpreted. As a result, the accused is made liable.


In Nathulal v state of Madhya Pradesh[8], the Court upheld the appellant's conviction for violating Section 3 of the Order while knowing he lacked a license. However, there is little doubt that the State authorities were irresponsible in failing to provide the appellant a hearing before rejecting his license application, and in failing to even inform him of the refusal. They continued to accept his returns when he presented them on a regular basis. As a result, the Court believes that no significant action can be taken against the violators of the Madhya Pradesh Food Grains Dealers Licensing Order, 1958.


Mens rea is a necessary element of a criminal offence, and the fact that the statute's aim is to provide for welfare activities or to eliminate a serious social ill is not determinative of whether the element of guilty mind is omitted from the offence's ingredient. If mens rea is interpreted as a component of the offence, the object of the act in issue, in this case, is to control commerce in particular commodities in the general public interest, the object of the act cannot be considered to be defeated.



 A person should be held accountable only for the act he planned to do. When both elements of criminal liability, actus reus and mens rea, are present, only then the person should be held liable.  However, the inclusion of the idea of strict liability in the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, makes a person criminally liable even if he did not intend to do something banned by law. He is held liable only for the reason that he did that act. The element of mens rea is presumed in strict liability offences and does not need to be proven.


The legislators' intent in incorporating this principle into our penal code is to ensure that an offender is not able to escape from the clutches of the criminal justice system simply because he did not intend to do so due to his callousness or lack of understanding. One should always be wary of what he does. You should not simply exercise your rights without thinking about how to protect the rights of others in society. The right to a fair trial is violated by the fact that the defendant can be convicted without proof of his mens rea. Because strict liability has the capacity to cause injustice and operate severely, it is accurately claimed that it is a dangerous instrument that should be treated with extreme caution.

While it is true that imposing strict liability as a basis for criminal culpability encourages organizations to strive for higher standards, defending the public interest, health, or safety. Strict liability is unreasonable and goes against the foundations of criminal law. Even if a person is innocent, he may be convicted of a crime. As a result of the unwholesome principle's ongoing use, there is a growing need to identify an alternative. As a superior alternative to strict responsibility, liability might be imposed for negligence. The advantage of that method is that it achieves the goals of strict liability offences by raising standards while not penalizing innocent people.





















[1] Dr. N.V. Paranjape, Studies in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory 531 (Central Law Agency, Allahabad, 8th edn., 2016).

[2] (1868) LR 3 HL 330.

[3] Smith and Hogan, The Spirit of the Common law 135 (10th ed., op.cit).

[4] Parker, “Mens Rea and the Supreme Court” Ojealaro, op. cit., 138 (1962).

[5]  [1875] LR 2 CCR 154 (HL).

[6]  (1993) 3 All ER 302 (QBD), Kennedy LJ and Mitchel J.

[7] AIR 1965 SC 722: [1965] 1 SCR 123.

[8] AIR 1966 SC 43.


Let's Start With Publication