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B (A Minor) v. Director of Public Prosecutions

    Brief Fact Summary. A common law presumption of an objective standard no longer governs the mental state requirement for criminal statutes in a situation where Parliament fails to specify a mens rea requirement.


    Facts. A common law presumption of an objective standard no longer governs the mental state requirement for criminal statutes in a situation where Parliament fails to specify a mens rea requirement.15 years old B (D) was constantly pestering a 13 year old girl for oral sex. He was charged to court for inciting a child under the age of 14 to commit gross indecency after the girl refused his demands. An intention to commit the act with a child under the age of 14 as an element of crime was not expressly provided for in the statute under which he was prosecuted. B’s (D) honest belief that the girl was over 14 years of age was the defense he had during trial but this was rejected by the judges. B (D) pled guilty for the allegation while preserving his right to appeal the judgment. He later appealed the court’s rejection of his “honest belief” defense to the House of Lords.


    Issue. does a common law presumption of an objective standard govern the mental state requirement for criminal statutes in a situation where Parliament fails to specify a mens rea requirement?


    Held. (Nicholls, L.) No. A common law presumption of an objective standard no longer governs the mental state requirement for criminal statutes in a situation where Parliament fails to specify a mens rea requirement. In this case, the requisite mental state in the statute at issue has not being defined by Parliament. The current common-law standard being used today is determining whether the defendant holds an honest belief of the pertinent facts in his defense. The appropriate presumption to apply in this case is the “honest belief” standard, although a common-law presumption on mens rea can also be applied. The ruling was reversed.


    Concurrence. (Steyn, L.) Defendants should henceforth be tried based on their honest belief of the facts because the old rule is no longer applicable.


    Discussion.

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    It is important to note that the ruling by the House of Lords in B (A Minor) has not in any way watered down the traditional rule in the United States. This case therefore reflects a recent trend not in the U.S. law but in English law



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