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Sherras v De Rutzen [1895] 1 QB 918 Divisional Court

The defendant was convicted of selling alcohol to a police officer whilst on duty under to s.16(2) Licensing Act 1872. It was customary for police officers to wear an armlet whilst on duty but this constable had removed his. The appellant therefore believed he was off duty. The statute was silent as to the question of whether knowledge was required for the offence. He was convicted and appealed contending that knowledge that the officer was on duty was a requirement of the offence.

Held:

The appeal was allowed and his conviction was quashed.

Wright J:
"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 . . .It is plain that if guilty knowledge is not necessary, no care on the part of the publican could save him from a conviction under section 16, subsection (2), since it would be as easy for the constable to deny that he was on duty when asked, or to produce a forged permission from his superior officer, as to remove his armlet before entering the public house. I am, therefore, of opinion that this conviction ought to be quashed."
 
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