On appeal from: [2011] NICA 47

This Northern Irish appeal concerned the appellant’s conviction for having unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 14 contrary to the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (Northern Ireland) 1885, s 4. On appeal the appellant argued that s 4 was silent as to whether it was necessary for the prosecution to prove the defendant did not believe the girl was over 13 years old, but in view of its legislative history and the seriousness of the offence it must be presumed there was a mental element to it.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. It was held that the constitutional principle that mens rea is to be presumed to be required in order to establish criminal liability is a strong one, but in this case the juxtaposition of s 4 with other sections in the 1885 Act that originally contained a defence of reasonable belief makes it clear no such defence was to be provided for an offence under s 4.

The policy approach of protecting younger females by ensuring that a defence of reasonable belief should not be available has been unswerving. Further, there is nothing in the contemporary social context which militates against the denial of the defence of belief as to age for s 4 offences.

For judgment, please download: [2013] UKSC 43
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For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII