St Margaret Trust LtdRe 1958 2 All ER 289 320
Regina v St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd.  1 W.L.R. 522
Presiding Judges: Lord Goddard C.J. , Donovan and Havers JJ.
Court: Court of Criminal Appeal
Facts of the Case: St. Margaret’s Trust, a company that engaged in financing hire-purchase transactions, were charged on an indictment of seven counts for disposing goods against the law stated in article 1 of the Hire-Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) Order 1956. Oliver Autos Ltd., a company engaged in buying and selling motorcars, and Richard and Hone, two of its officers, were convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of this offences. Oliver Autos, in order to obtain an advance of more than 50% for a motor-vehicle from the finance company, stated a false inflated cash price to the finance company, as a result of which a higher price was paid. The car company also falsely informed the finance company that the customer had already paid this 50%, which the customer had not. The finance company, because they were unaware of this, were charged with an offence that they had disposed the motor car, i.e, parted with the right to possession, in a manner that went agent Article 1 of the aforementioned Order. All the appellants were fined, the fine on St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd. being the nominal one of £5 for each offence. St. Margaret’s Trust then appealed the case in the Court of Criminal Appeal, on the grounds that the absence of mens rea meant they could not be convicted of an offense under Article 1.
- St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd. argued that the absence of mens rea on its part meant that it could not be convicted under Article 1 of the prementioned Order. Thus, Oliver Autos Ltd, and its two employees Richard and Hone, also argued that the absence of mens rea on the part of St Margaret’s Trust meant it had committed no offence, and thus they could not be held liable of aiding or abetting any offence.
- The prosecution argued that although there was no mens rea on the part of the St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd., mens rea was irrelevant to this particular offence as the prohibition contained in Article 1 of the Order was absolute, meaning it did not matter if the person committed it innocently. Thus, because the language of Article 1 expressly prohibits the act committed by St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd., they should be held liable for the same. They also argued that if the Trust was held to be not liable, a judicial modification of the actual terms of the article was essential.
- The appellants further contended that the article should be construed to excuse the situations wherein the prohibited act was committed innocently. In other words, that mens rea should be regarded as essential to the commission of the offence. They relied on the presumption that mens rea was essential for the commission of a statutory offence, unless the language of the statute, expressly or through necessary implication, stated otherwise. Since, this was not the case, they should not be held liable of committing a statutory offence without the presence of mens rea.
- The bench declared that the words of the Order were an express and unqualified prohibition of the acts committed by St. Margaret’s Trust Ltd. While understanding the requirement of mens rea, they took into consideration that the object of the Order was to “defend the currency against the peril of inflation which, if unchecked, would bring disaster upon the country.” Thus, it would be more beneficial to understand Article 1 of the Order in its literal meaning, wherein the act was strictly prohibited.
- Hence, the appeal was rejected.