Sherras v De Rutzen – Case Summary

Sherras v De Rutzen

High Court

Citations: [1895] 1 QB 918.


The defendant was a licensee of a public house. They were convicted of unlawfully supplying liquor to a police officer on duty. The officer was not wearing his armlet at the time. This was widely understood to mean that the officer was not on duty. The defendant assumed that he was not on duty.

The defendant appealed their conviction. They argued that the offence required the prosecutor to show that the defendant knew the officer was on duty or wilfully shut his eyes to that fact. The statute creating the offence made no mention of any mens rea requirement.

  1. Did the offence require knowledge that the officer was on duty?

The court quashed the defendant’s conviction. The offence required knowledge even though the statute creating it made no mention of any mens rea.

This Case is Authority For…

Wright J explained the presumption of mens rea:

‘There is a presumption that mens rea, an evil intention, or a knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act, is an essential ingredient in every offence; but that presumption is liable to be displaced either by the words of the statute creating the offence or by the subject-matter with which it deals, and both must be considered…’