It is used either in regulatory offences enforcing social behaviour where minimal stigma attaches to a person upon conviction, or where society is concerned with the prevention of harm, and wishes to maximise the deterrent value of the offence. The imposition of strict liability may operate very unfairly in individual cases. For example, in Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Storkwain (1986) 2 ALL ER 635, a pharmacist supplied drugs to a patient who presented a forged doctor's prescription, but was convicted even though the House of Lords accepted that the pharmacist was blameless. The justification is that the misuse of drugs is a grave social evil and pharmacists should be encouraged to take even unreasonable care to verify prescriptions before supplying drugs. Similarly, where liability is imputed or attributed to another through vicarious liability or corporate liability, the effect of that imputation may be strict liability albeit that, in some cases, the accused will have a mens rea imputed and so, in theory, will be as culpable as the actual wrongdoer.
Hence, the literal rule is qualified, and there is a rebuttable presumption that Parliament intended a mens rea to be a requirement in any section which creates an offence where the social stigma following conviction and the punishment available to be imposed show this to be a truly criminal offence. In Gammon v AG for Hong Kong (1985) AC 1, Lord Scarman rebutted the presumption because public safety was threatened. Hence, statutes involving pollution, dangerous drugs, and acting as a director while disqualified have been interpreted as imposing strict liability. In Environment Agency (formerly National Rivers Authority) v. Empress Car Co. (Abertillery) Ltd. (1998) 2 WLR. 350, examples are given of cases in which strict liability has been imposed for "causing" events which were the immediate consequence of the deliberate acts of third parties but which the defendant had a duty to prevent or take reasonable care to prevent. If words like "knowingly" or "wilfully" appear in the section, the inference is that Parliament intended a mens rea requirement in that section. But, if words implying a mens rea are present in some sections but not others, this suggests that Parliament deliberately excluded a mens rea requirement in those sections which are silent.
In considering offences created in the Children Act 1960, Lord Hutton in B (a minor) v DPP (2000) 1 AER 833, states the current position at p855:
As to the meaning of "necessary implication", Lord Nicholls said
Thus, the court must examine the overall purpose of the statute. If the intention is to introduce quasi-criminal offences, strict liability will be acceptable to give quick penalties to encourage future compliance, e.g. fixed-penalty parking offences. But, if the policy issues involved are sufficiently significant and the punishments more severe, the test must be whether reading in a mens rea requirement will defeat Parliament's intention in creating the particular offence, i.e. if defendants might escape liability too easily by pleading ignorance, this would not address the "mischief" that Parliament was attempting to remedy.
If there was any doubt that Section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is an offence of strict liability any such doubt was dispelled by the House of Lords. The appellant pleaded guilty to the offence of rape of a child under 13 contrary to section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The appellant was 15 at the time of the offence, the complainant had consented to intercourse and she had told him that she was 15. For the purpose of sentence, the prosecution accepted the appellant's version of the facts, namely, that the accused was 15 at the time of the offence, the complainant had consented to intercourse and she had told him that she was 15.
Another area where strict liability tends to show up is in drunk driving laws; the punishment tends to be given on a strict liability basis, with no mens rea requirement at all. This was important for the purposes of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2004, Leocal v. Ashcroft, where a deportation order was overturned because the conviction that led to the deportation order was a strict liability law, while deportation was only allowed upon conviction if the crime was a "crime of violence" (where violence, or the potential for it, was inherent in the crime itself).
In many states, statutory rape is considered a strict liability offense. In these states, 22 as of 2007, it is possible to face Felony charges due to not knowing the age of the other person.
Following the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, this distinction was upheld in Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act. The Supreme Court further held that the inclusion of the possibility of imprisonment − no matter how remote − in an offence of absolute liability violated the accused's Section 7 right to liberty.