Sherras v De Rutzen: QBD 2 May 1895

The court considered the need to establish mens rea where it was dealing with something which was one of a class of acts which ‘are not criminal in any real sense, but are acts which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty’, and ‘There is a presumption that mens rea, an evil intention, or a knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act, is an essential ingredient in every offence; but that presumption is liable to be displaced either by the words of the statute creating the offence or by the subject-matter with which it deals.’ The court discussed offences where mens rea might not be required: ‘Another class comprehends some, and perhaps all, public nuisances: R v Stephens where the employer was held liable on indictment for a nuisance caused by workmen without his knowledge and contrary to his orders; and so in R v Medley and Barnes v Akroyd. Lastly, there may be cases in which, although the proceeding is criminal in form, it is really only a summary mode of enforcing a civil right: see per Williams and Willes JJ in Morden v Porter, as to unintentional trespass in pursuit of game; Lee v Simpson, as to unconscious dramatic piracy; and Hargreaves v Diddams, as to a bona fide belief in a legally impossible right to fish.’

Wright J
[1895-99] All ER 1167; 11 TLR 369, 72 LT 839, [1895] UKLawRpKQB 77, [1895] 1 QB 918
England and Wales
CitedRegina v Stephens 1866
The court was asked whether the owner of a slate quarry was answerable for a public nuisance caused by his workmen without his knowledge and contrary to his general orders.
Held: Mellor J: ‘It is quite true that this in point of form is a . .

Cited by:
CitedSweet v Parsley HL 23-Jan-1969
Mens Rea essential element of statutory Offence
The appellant had been convicted under the Act 1965 of having been concerned in the management of premises used for smoking cannabis. This was a farmhouse which she visited infrequently. The prosecutor had conceded that she was unaware that the . .
CitedRegina v K HL 25-Jul-2001
In a prosecution for an offence of indecent assault on a girl under 16 under the section, it was necessary for the prosecution to prove the absence of a positive belief in the defendant’s mind that the victim was 16 or over. The legislation history . .
CitedRegina v Rimmington; Regina v Goldstein HL 21-Jul-2005
Common Law – Public Nuisance – Extent
The House considered the elements of the common law offence of public nuisance. One defendant faced accusations of having sent racially offensive materials to individuals. The second was accused of sending an envelope including salt to a friend as a . .
ConfirmedGammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v A-G of Hong Kong PC 1984
Lord Scarman expressed the purpose of imposing strict liability within criminal law: ‘In their Lordships’ opinion, the law relevant to this appeal may be stated in the following propositions . . : (1) there is a presumption of law that mens rea is . .
CitedDerbyshire v Houliston QBD 11-May-1897
The appellant was charged, under s. 27 of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875, with giving a false warranty in writing to a purchaser in respect of an article of food sold by the appellant. When the appellant sold the article he did not know, and . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.219637