How much do you need to know? Perspectives on strict liability and criminal responsibility.

Claydon, Lisa (2020). How much do you need to know? Perspectives on strict liability and criminal responsibility. In: Claydon, Lisa; Derry, Caroline and Ajevski, Marjan eds. Law in Motion: Fifty Years of Legal Change. Milton Keynes: Open University Law School, pp. 119–135.



In 1969 the House of Lords were asked to consider whether the wording of a statute created an “absolute offence”. Stephanie Lavinia Sweet was a schoolteacher who rented out rooms in a farmhouse to students. It was accepted that she only visited the farmhouse occasionally and that she kept a room in the farmhouse for her own use. The appeal concerned three points of law:
(i) Whether section 5(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 creates an absolute offence (ii) What, if any, mental element is involved in the offence; and … (iii) Whether on the facts found a reasonable bench of Magistrates, properly directing their minds as to the law, could have convicted the Appellant.
Stephanie Sweet had been convicted of being concerned in the management of premises and permitting those premises to be used for the smoking of cannabis. The House of Lords had to consider whether the junior courts had erred in their interpretation of the law.
This case is seminal because it considers the minimal fault elements required for criminal responsibility. The thread that connects many of the cases that acknowledge Sweet v Parsley as a precedent is that they are central to the debates surrounding criminal responsibility in the last fifty years. It is possible from the cases to gain a perspective of the view taken by the senior courts of criminal responsibility; and on occasion the politics and the policies that underpin the definition of responsibility. This chapter will examine and critique the reasoning adopted by the courts in interpreting and developing the criminal law.

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