Brief of R v Prince

Brief of R v Prince by Legum

R v Prince (1875) LR 2 CCR 154

Material Facts:

The appellant was convicted under section 55 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 for taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 out of the possession of her father without her father’s consent. The section was silent as to the required mens rea of the offence.

The appellant took the girl away, believing she was 18 because she looked older than 16, and the girl told him she was 18. His belief in the girl's age was found to be reasonable. However, she was, in fact, 14. He appealed against his conviction.


Whether the appellant can be convicted in the absence of an intention to take a girl under the age of 16 out of the possession of her father.


The appellant can be convicted because the crime he is accused does not require a mens rea.

Ratio Decidendi:

Sometimes, the legislature may make certain acts crimes and punishable irrespective of the intention of the accused. When a person is charged with committing such an offence, it does not matter that the accused did not have the intention or mens rea to commit the offence. The court noted:

The argument in favour of the prisoner must therefore entirely proceed on the ground that, in general, a guilty mind is an essential ingredient in a crime, and that where a statute creates a crime, the intention of the legislature should be presumed to be to include "knowingly" in the definition of the crime, and the statute should be read as if that word were inserted, unless the contrary intention appears. We need not inquire at present whether the canon of construction goes quite so far as above stated, for we are of opinion that the intention of the legislature sufficiently appears to have been to punish the abduction, unless the girl, in fact, was of such an age as to make her consent an excuse, irrespective of whether he knew her to be too young to give an effectual consent, and to fix that age at sixteen.

… It seems impossible to suppose that the intention of the legislature in those two sections could have been to make the crime depend upon the knowledge of the prisoner of the girl's actual age. It would produce the monstrous result that a man who had carnal connection with a girl, in reality not quite ten years old, but whom he on reasonable grounds believed to be a little more than ten, was to escape altogether. He could not, in that view of the statute, be convicted of the felony, for he did not know her to be under ten. He could not be convicted of the misdemeanor, because she was in fact not above the age of ten. It seems to us that the intention of the legislature was to punish those who bad connection with young girls, though with their consent, unless the girl was in fact old enough to give a valid consent. The man who has connection with a child, relying on her consent, does it at his peril, if she is below the statutable age.

Thus, the particular offence for which the appellant was charged was one for which the legislature made his intention irrelevant.