What is Mens Rea ?

           Mens rea is a cardinal principle of law. It means "Mental element or Evil intent or Guilty mind". It may be defined as the mental element is necessary to constitute a criminal liability. Mere commitment of offense is not enough but it has to be proved that the offense was committed with "guilty mind".

Example - If a while playing cricket a person is hit by a ball and dies, a person hitting the ball cannot be charged with murder as there was no mens rea.

       In criminal offenses generally, Mens rea has to be proved by prosecution and quality of proof required is heavy i.E. It should be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Thus in criminal offences heavy burden is cast on government authorities regarding proof and hence many people are released by the court as a proof of mens rea (culpable mental state) " is not enough.

Exceptions to  Mens Rea -

Exceptions to the Doctrine Mens Rea are as follows -

a) Strict Liability - 

       Even though there is no guilty mind the person is held responsible for the act. Only some special statute creates those liabilities. Act passed by parliament. These offences are against Public Health for which such strict or absolute liability is imposed, for example-Essential Commodities Act, Food and Drug Act, Consumer Protection Act etc.

b) When it is difficult to prove Mens Rea -

       Another exception to the doctrine Mens rea is where it is difficult to prove mens rea and penalties are petty fines A statute may do away with the necessity of Mens rea on the basis of expediency. In such petty cases, speedy disposal of cases is necessary and the proving of mens rea is not easy. An accused or may be fined even without any proof of Mens Rea.

c) Public Nuisance - 

       Another exception to the doctrine of mens rea is in case of public nuisance. In the interest of public safety, strict liability must be imposed. Whether a person causes public nuisance with guilty mind or without guilty mind, he must be punishable.

d) Ignorance of Law no excuse -   

    Ignorance of law is no excuse. It is presumed that everybody knows the law of land. The principle of ignorantia juris non excusat is followed in almost all legal systems. This is an irrebuttable presumption that every person knows the law of the land.

Conclusion - 

          Mens rea is a technical term, generally taken to mean some blameworthy mental condition whether  constituted by intention or knowledge or otherwise the absence of which on any particular occasion negatives and intentions of a crime. There are many exceptional cases where mens rea is not required in criminal law some exceptions to the doctrine mens rea are mentioned above.

See also....

Criminal Administration of Justice | Jurisprudence

Essential Elements of Legal Right 


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