Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED March 18, 2003

An offence under Reg.21 Product of Animal Origin (Import and Export) Regulations 1996 SI 1996/3124 did not require mens rea.Appeal by the defendant ('M') against his conviction in September 2001 for the importation of animal products contrary to regs.21 and 27 Products of Animal Origin (Import and Export) Regulations 1996 SI 1996/3124. M had run a shop in the UK in which he had sold African food. On 28 November 2000 a consignment containing smoked animal meat from an endangered species arrived for him from the Cameroons. The consignment had been discovered during a spot check. Importation thereby meant that M had contravened reg.21 of the 1996 regulations which had stated inter alia that notice had to be given of importation of products of animal origin to ensure that they had been inspected. M's defence had been that he had not known that the consignment had contained any products of animal origin. The judge had ruled that this was no defence in law because the offence did not require guilty knowledge. Accordingly M changed his plea to guilty and he was sentenced to a twelve-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay ?100 towards the costs of the prosecution. On appeal M submitted that: (i) it could not be presumed that the offence was one of strict liability; (ii) strict liability was not shown to have promoted the objects of the legislation; (iii) if reg.21 was interpreted as a strict liability offence, the importer was in an impossible position as he could not control what a consignor put into a consignment; and (iv) the Products of Animal Origin (Third Country Imports) (England) Regulations 2002 SI 2002/1227 that had replaced the 1996 regulations provided for a defence of due diligence.HELD: (1) The presumption requiring mens rea applied to statutory offences but could be displaced only if that had clearly or by necessary implication been the effect of the statute. (see Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v Attorney-General of Hong Kong (1995) AC 1). (2) The importation of products of animal origin into the UK from countries outside the EC was a matter of considerable importance and social concern. There were significant public health implications that engaged the safety of the public. Both human and animal health was involved and in some circumstances, ie Foot and Mouth Disease, there could be very serious economic consequences following a breach of such regulations. (3) The clear purpose of the regulation was that products of animal origin should not be imported into the UK without first having been vetted. This was a policy of the EC and not the UK alone. The greater the degree of social damage, the more ready the courts would be to infer that Parliament's intention had been to create a strict liability offence. (4) A person who had chosen to be an importer had taken upon himself the obligation to ensure that any importation complied with the relevant regulations. The decision to participate in such an activity was a citizen's choice. Those opting for it placed on themselves an obligation to take necessary measures to prevent the prohibited act. (5) It was up to an importer to emphasise to his supplier that the contents of any consignment had to comply with the accompanying documents. (6) Strict liability would inevitably make the regulation more effective. (7) The fact of a change in the legislation and its nature was neutral from the viewpoint of construing the previous regulation. (8) The presumption had not been displaced in the instant case, an offence under reg.21 of the 1996 regulations did not require mens rea.Appeal dismissed.

[2003] EWCA (Crim) 697