04/17/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George (1965) : case analysis

State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George (1965) : case analysis

Image source-

This article is written by Kruti Brahmbhatt. It deals with the case of the State of Maharashtra v.  Mayer Hans George. It provides a comprehensive analysis of each aspect considered by the court and the arguments made by both parties. Additionally, provides the details of the case, facts of the case, issues raised and arguments advanced by the appellant and the respondent, along with a detailed understanding of the cases considered by the courts while delivering the judgement. 

This is a must-read for all legal students who wish to explore different legal effects and statutory interpretation. The case of State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George (1965) holds significant importance while researching precedents on various legal issues like mens rea, ignorance of the law, strict liability, and implications of delegated legislation. This case deals with a foreign national, which allows the readers to explore and understand numerous legal implications regarding a foreign national committing a criminal offence.

This case made headlines because of a huge amount of suspected gold smuggling by a foreign national into India. The Supreme Court, in this case, interprets the crucial provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 (Now repealed with the enactment of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973). The court, in this case, has given a decision on a crucial aspect of criminal law, i.e., mens rea. This case is a perfect example of understanding the complexities which arise when the accused is a foreign national. Because of the decision in this case, this crucial issue regarding the applicability of Indian laws to foreign nationals was raised.

Download Now

Case name:  State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George 

Equivalent Citations: AIR 1965 SC 722, 1968 (67) BOM LR 583, [1965] 35 CompCas 557 (SC), (1971) 1 CompLJ 634 (SC), (1971) 1 CompLJ 634 (SC)

Act involved: The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, the Defence of India Act, 1962

Court: Supreme Court of India 

Bench: Justice K Subbarao, Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar  and Justice J.R. Mudholkar 

Appellant: State of Maharashtra 

Respondents: Mayer Hans George 

Judgement Date: 24/08/1964 

Important provisions:

  • Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 (now repealed): This section prescribed rules for restrictions on dealing in any gold or silver, bank notes, or any currency notes whether Indian or Foreign. This section imposed a clear restriction on dealings with foreign exchange in India for persons not having general or special permission from the Reserve Bank of India. However, this section does not apply to any transaction of foreign currency that took place between a person and a money-changer. 
  • Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 (now repealed): This section provides penalties to the offenders as per Section 4, Section 5, Section 9, Section 10, Section 12(2), Section 17, Section 18-A, or Section 18-B of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947. 
  1. The offender shall be penalised with a fine three times the amount of foreign exchange involved in the offence, or five thousand rupees, whichever is more out of both of them. This fine shall be determined by the Director of Enforcement. 
  2. If the court has convicted the offender, then the offender may be awarded imprisonment up to two years, fine or both. 
  • Section 24(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 (now repealed): In cases where any offender is accused of violating any provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 or violates any rules and regulations which restrains him from doing an act without permissions then in these cases, Section 24(1) of the Act imposes the burden of proof on the accused to prove that he had the required permissions. 

For example, if the act does not allow bringing gold into the territory of India without the permission of the Reserve Bank of India and the person is accused of violating this provision then the person has to prove that he had permission from the Reserve Bank of India for bringing gold into Indian territory. 

The case deals with the important aspects of bringing and sending gold outside India without the permission of the Reserve Bank of India. Before looking into the facts of the case, it is important to look at some important notifications passed by the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India to understand the case better. 

On 25th August 1948, the Government of India exercised its power given under Section 8 of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947, and issued a notification according to which the gold and gold articles should not be brought into India or sent to India without the general or special permission of the Reserve Bank of India. On the same day, the Reserve Bank of India granted general permission to bring and send such gold through transit to a place outside of Indian territory. 

On November 24, 1962, the Reserve Bank of India published a notification which superseded its previous notification of November 8, 1962. This notification further imposed restrictions on the transit of the gold to places outside India. The notification made it mandatory to declare such gold in the manifest for transit in the same bottom cargo or the transhipment cargo.

Hence, this made it mandatory for the gold or gold articles to be brought into the territories of India or be sent outside India to either 

  • have special permission from the Reserve Bank of India, or 
  • declare in the manifest for transit. 

The respondent was a German national and was a sailor by profession. He met a person in Hamburg and got engaged in the transportation of gold from Geneva to Far Eastern locations. In these assignments of transportation of gold, the respondent used to wear a specially designed jacket which enables him to carry 34 bars of gold. The respondent had already completed such a project before and delivered the gold to Tokyo.  

On 27th November 1962, the respondent, a passenger from Zurich, reached Santa Cruz Airport in order to further reach Manila. The Customs officers had received information about the respondent. The officers searched for the respondent and found him sitting in the plane. The officers asked the man if he had any gold with him. The respondent replied and reacted, What gold?. The officers asked him to get off the plane and his luggage was searched by the customs officers. Later the officers found out that he was carrying approximately 34 kilos of gold in his jacket, which had around 28 pockets. Out of these, in 19 of them, he was carrying gold with him. The respondent denied claiming ownership of the gold and stated that he did not have any interest in the gold. 

As per the notification of the Reserve Bank of India, the respondent was supposed to declare such gold in the manifest for transit. However, the respondent said that he was unaware of the fact and was just sitting on the plane once it reached Santa Cruz Airport.

The respondent was charged under Section 8(1) read with Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 and under Section 167(8)() of the Sea Customs Act, 1878. The respondent was held guilty by the Presidency Magistrate and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for the period of one year on April 24, 1963.

However, the Bombay High Court set aside the order by the Presidency Magistrate on the grounds that the respondent carried the gold with him on his body and not in his cargo. Hence, the notification of the Central Government does not apply to him. Additionally, even if the notification was applicable to the respondent, there was an absence of mens rea, and mens rea is an essential ingredient for the offence.

This appeal, by special leave application, is against the said judgement of the High Court. The respondent was in prison till the judgement of the High Court that was on December 10, 1963. Following the judgement, the respondent was released the next day. Further, on the special leave application granted by the Supreme Court made by the appellant-State on December 20, 1963, the respondent was arrested again. The imprisonment continued until the judgement of the Supreme Court on May 8, 1964. The respondent had already partly served the imprisonment sentence by the Magistrate.

In the present matter, the following are the issues raised:

  1. Whether mens rea is necessary or not for the offence under Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947? 
  2. Whether the respondent be held guilty of the offence of bringing gold to India under Section 8(1) and 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947? 
  3. Whether the ban imposed by the Central Government and Central  Board of Revenue, under Section 8 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, includes the transportation of gold through the territory of India by an individual who does not have the required permissions and whether respondents are liable for this offence.

Appellant 

In this case, the State of Maharashtra was represented by the then-learned Solicitor-General of India. The appellant argued that the purpose of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was to prevent gold smuggling activities and protect the economic stability of the country. The appellant argued that regardless of the goods being carried in the plane or ship, all these goods should be termed as cargo.  The further arguments of the appellant were as follows:

Issue 1: The objective of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was to prevent gold smuggling in the country. There is no scope for the application of the common law principle of mens rea being an essential ingredient of the offence. 

The provisions of the Act and the language of the law make it clear that mens rea is not necessary for the commission of the offence. Merely, the act itself is enough for a person to be convicted for the offence. 

Issue 2: The appellant argued that there are certain conditions laid down in the notification dated 8 November 1962 by the Board of Revenue, which make it crystal clear that the person must disclose the gold in the Manifest as prescribed in the second proviso. 

Since the gold was undisclosed in the Manifest, the respondent had contravened the terms laid down in the notification under Section 8 and Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act and should be held guilty under the mentioned provisions. 

Issue 3: The appellant admitted the fact that if the notification of the Reserve Bank of India dated 25th August 1948 was applicable, then the respondent did not commit any offence because the respondent did not even get out of the plane and was just a passenger from Geneva to Manila. However, the notification dated 8th November 1962 makes transporting such cargo without declaring it in the Manifest a prohibited act. Therefore, The respondent should be liable for the act committed. 

Relied case law: Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd V. Jasjit Singh (1964), in this case, under Section 52A of the Sea Customs Act 1878, there was an absolute prohibition on the entry of certain vessels. Such strict and clear provisions made the objective of the law very clear. The imposition of restriction was to conceal the goods in those vessels. Herein, the court held that since the objective of the law was clear, violating the law itself was enough to prove the guilt. Hence, it was not necessary to prove mens rea against the person violating Section 52A. 

Respondent 

The respondents counsel sustained their arguments, which were made in the High Court for the acquittal of the respondent. The arguments were as follows: 

Issue 1: The respondent cited Halsburys Laws of England and the Book Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, which states that the presumption that mens rea is an essential ingredient of the statutory offence. In the text from Halsburys Laws of England, the passage cited by the court explains the concept of mens rea and states that, where the laws expressly mention the necessary state of mind, it shall use terms like specific intention, malice, knowledge, willfulness, or recklessness. However, in certain cases, the law does not expressly mention anything about the necessary state of mind, in such cases it is crucial to look at the objects and terms of the statute. The respondent by citing this passage pointed out that, where the law does not expressly mention the necessary state of mind, the decision should be made relying on the object and terms of the statute. 

Further, the court referred to a passage from Archbolds book titled Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice which states that mens rea is an essential element under the common law for any criminal offence and, further, went on to state that this general presumption that mens rea is an essential ingredient may not always be true in cases of statutory offences as it depends upon the effect of the statute, its provisions and subject matter. 

Thus, the respondent requested the court to consider mens rea while interpreting laws and statutes to decide upon the present matter.

The respondent herein argues by referring to the case of Srinivas Mall Bairoliya v. King- Emperor (1947). In this case, the appellant was a wholesale dealer and had a worker (or an agent) who was assigned the work of distributing salt to retail dealers and keeping a record of the same according to the rules prescribed by the Defence of India Rules, 1939. Herein the agent was supposed to follow the rules given by the Defence of India Rules, 1939. The agent failed to follow the rules and sold out the salt violating the Defence of India Rules, 1939. For the said act of the agent, the dealer was prosecuted and was held guilty of the offence of violating the rules of the Defence of India Rules, 1939 following the principle of vicarious liability. 

The High Court stated that, even if the dealer has no knowledge of the action, he is still liable because, when absolute liability prohibits something. mens rea is not essential and the master is liable for the acts committed by his agent. While appealing this case further to the Privy Council, Lord Du Parcq disagreed with the High Courts order and stated that they do not find any ground on which it can be held that the offence can be committed without a guilty mind. Further, the court stated Wright J. in the case of Sherras v. De Rutzen (1895) where the court held that a morally innocent being held responsible for an agent’s crime was surprising.      

Herein, the respondent argued that he was unaware of the notification and had no intention of smuggling gold into the country. The respondent argued that he had no knowledge or intention to commit such a crime. 

Issue 2: The respondent stated that the provisions of Section 8 of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947, prevent the persons from bringing gold if it is not declared in the manifest of transit as same bottom cargo or transhipment cargo, the respondent argued that this could not be the objective of the Board of Revenue. The respondent argued that the law does not apply to articles or gold items that are personal items that are not listed for transport. 

The respondent interpreted the term cargo while arguing that the items that are not listed in the manifest cannot be called cargo. The respondent, while proceeding with the arguments, contended that the second proviso of Section 8 is applicable only to cargo shipments. Hence, according to this understanding, the general permission shall apply in this case because it is not covered under the second proviso of Section 8. 

Issue 3: The respondent, with respect to the above submissions, argued that only such persons should be held guilty under Section 8 of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947, who bring gold in India with the intention and knowledge of the offence. The respondent argues that since the notification was a delegated legislation, the Latin maxim ignorantia juris non excusat, meaning ignorance of law is no defence, does not apply in this case. The Reserve Bank of India was empowered to grant permissions or make rules, but the mode of publication of the notification has not been prescribed. 

Hence, in precise form, the respondent argued on three grounds which are: 

  • Absence of mens rea. 
  • Personal articles shall not be called cargo. 
  • The notification was released by delegated legislation, and no provision for the publication of the notification was mentioned. 

Relied case law: 

Srinivas Mall Bairoliya v. King-Emperor (1947):  The respondent relied upon the judgement given by the Bombay High Court, which stated that: 

  • The person must have mens rea while committing the act. 
  • The legal principle ignorance of the law is no excuse cannot be applied in this case because there were prescribed provisions for publishing the order or making it accessible for a person to know about the law. 
  • Lord Evershed accepted this judgment in one of his judgments. 

Since the publication of the notification was in question, the respondent argued that he must get certain relief under the said legal principle. 

Emperor v. Isak Solomon Macmull (1948): The respondent relied upon the judgement given by a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court. In this case, the master was not held vicariously liable because of the absence of mens rea for an offence committed by the servant. 

In this case, where the respondent was charged under Section 8(1) and 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, he was convicted by the Magistrate of Bombay for one year in prison. However, against which further appeal was made, the High Court found the respondent not guilty of the offence. A Supreme Court bench was constituted of three judges. Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar and Justice Mudholkar made the majority decision, and Justice Subbarao dissented. The court usually does not interfere with the sentence given by the lower courts. However, the courts interfere in matters only when either the sentence given by the lower court has any illegality or there is any question of law or principle. In the present matter, the respondent has already undergone the sentence passed by the Magistrate.

Ultimately, with a majority, the respondent was convicted by the Supreme Court of India and was ordered for imprisonment, deducting the time already spent in the prison. 

Rationale behind the judgement

While delivering the judgement there were many aspects to the case which needed to be addressed. The judgement was delivered after considering the arguments made by each side. The court interpreted the laws and decided the scope of mens rea for such an offence. The court considered and interpreted the following issues and delivered the judgement.

Is mens rea an essential ingredient for an offence under Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947?

The respondent had raised two principal questions, one of which was regarding whether mens rea was an essential ingredient of an offence under Section 23(1-A) of the FERA Act, 1947. As per the respondent, the prosecution could not establish that the respondent had the intention of committing the offence. The principle behind this argument is the Latin maxim, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means that a person cannot be held guilty unless the act is done with the intention of committing such an act. 

In the case, Srinivas Mall Bairoliya v. King-Emperor (1947), dealt with by the Privy Council, Lord Du Parcq had stated that they did not see any ground for claiming that the offence in the matter could be committed without a guilty mind. He cited the judgement given by Wright J in the case of Sherras v. De Rutzen (1895)  where the court stated that offences which are within that class are usually offences relating to a minor character, and it could be surprising if a person who was morally innocent of blame is so punishable for a crime which has punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years due the delegated legislation. This passage of Lord Du Parcq was approved in the case of Ravula Hariprasada Rao v. The State, where it states that the absolute liability was not just lightly presumed but was clearly established. 

Further, referring to the case of Brend v. Wood (1946), which stated that mens rea is an essential element of an offence and a defendant must not be found guilty without a guilty mind unless the law or statute expressly states. Apart from these, the counsel of the respondent argued strongly citing the judgement of Lim Chin Aik v. The Queen wherein Lord Evershed had clarified the principles. It stated that mens rea or guilty mind must be held to be an essential ingredient of the offence.

The respondent hence strongly argued that the respondent was not aware of the notification by the Reserve Bank of India, and he could not be held guilty of the offence.

In this case, the court held that mens rea is not an essential ingredient for the offence under Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. The court, in this context, used the term the luckless victim. Herein, the court meant that, as per the law, the act of bringing gold into India without the necessary permission is enough to constitute an offence under Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. The provision places upon the accused the burden of proving that he had the necessary permits to do such an act.

The court while addressing the issue of mens rea stated that whether mens rea is necessary or not, depends on the wording of the laws, with a consideration of the objects and the purpose of the Act. Additionally, finding mens rea to be essential for an offence must not make the enforcement of the law futile.    

The court stated that the bare text of the provision never mentions state of mind or uses words like knowingly, wilfully, etc., and the text does not give rise to absolute liability. The court refers to the principle of strict liability, according to which the respondent can be held liable without the presence of mens rea. There shall be no doubt that the terms bringing and sending mentioned in Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 do not include involuntary bringing or involuntary sending. Hence, for instance, if a packet of gold was slipped into the pocket without the persons knowledge, then this does not attract Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. Secondly, if a person is travelling on a flight which was not supposed to land in India but under a certain situation has to make a forced landing in India, then in such a situation the provisions of Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 does not apply.

After determining the state of mind, another crucial aspect of the case was the subject matter of the legislation. This was well-pointed out by Justice Wills in the case of R. v. Tolson (1889), stating that there must be a mind at fault (mens rea) for a commission of crime is a general rule. However, this is a flexible rule. A Statute may relate to the subject matter and may make an act criminal where there has been the intention to break the law or to do wrong or not. 

The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 aims to prevent unauthorised, unregulated transactions and eliminate smuggling in the country. With this note, further two important cases were referred to as follows:

  • The case of Jacob Bruhn v. The King (Singapore) (1909) refers to the plea of mens rea used as a defence in the case of importation of opium. Herein Lord Atkinson observed that there must be proof of mens rea of the accused person for the commission of the offence, but this also depends upon the statute or ordinance making the offence. There are certain things which must be done by certain persons, or under certain conditions. Herein the person must establish that he is allowed to commit the said act, or have fulfilled the required conditions. If the person fails to do so, then he must be held guilty.  
  • The other case is Regina v. St. Margarets Trust Ltd. 1958 1 WLR 522 dealt with by the Court of Criminal Appeal wherein the court stated that the mens rea should be regarded as an essential element for the commission of the offence until the language of the statute clearly denies such presumption.    

Another important case referred to was the Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd v. Jasjit Singh, Additional Collector of Customs & Ors. (1964)  In this case, the interpretation of Section 52-A of the Sea Customs Act came for consideration. While dealing with this case, the then Chief Justice Gajendragadkar said that the intention of the legislature behind enacting Section 52-A is certainly to put an end to illegal smuggling activities in the country. These smuggling activities are conducted by operators who work on an International basis. These operators are nothing but the agents and behind them are well-knit organisations whose intentions are mere profit-making. 

The court observed that the above-stated observation is very apt in the present matter in hand and clears the intention behind Section 8 and Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. 

The respondent did not come out of the aircraft and stayed in the plane does not make any difference because Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 makes the act of bringing of gold without the required permission an offence. 

Hence, the court held that mens rea is not an essential ingredient in the present case since the provisions of the Act punish the wrongful act itself and not the wrongful intention of the person. 

Interpretation of the term cargo 

The notification issued on 8th November 1962 made it mandatory for such passengers to declare the gold in the manifest for transit as same bottom cargo or transhipment cargo. 

The respondent made the argument that the gold carried with him was his personal luggage, which is not included in the category of cargo, bottom cargo, or transhipment cargo and, hence, there was no need to enter the same in the manifest of the aircraft. The respondent stated that the second proviso could not be attracted to the case because it refers to goods which are handed to the ship or aircraft for transport. This does not include all goods or items which are carried by the passenger and created in their own possession. The respondent argued that the second proviso only applies to the cases where the goods or articles are handed over to the custody of the carrier and to the goods or articles carried by a passenger in his custody, it would not have served its objective as an exemption. The goods which are with the carrier would be entered in the manifest and if not, then it must be the fault on the part of the carrier. If goods which are in the custody of the passenger were exempt, there is no scope for application of the second proviso.         

Hence, the term cargo mentioned in the notification of the Reserve Bank of India is different from personal luggage. Concluding the same, the respondent stated that the term cargo refers to goods which are handed over to the carrier and are different from the items or goods which the passenger carries. 

The court held that the gold carried with the respondent certainly does not amount to personal luggage. The reason for the same is that the respondent would not have used gold during or after the journey. Therefore, the argument that gold was under the category of personal luggage, not cargo was not accepted by the court. 

Further, the court referred to the International Air Traffic Associations General Conditions of Carriage, which does not govern the contract between the respondent and the airline but provides the general practices of air transport. These articles prescribe the following:

  • Carriage of passengers and baggage (Article 8 of para 1(c)): The airlines shall not allow you to carry any merchandise, such as personal luggage or baggage. 
  • Carriage of goods (Article 3 of part B): This provides that gold has to be packed appropriately, and its value must be mentioned in the consignment note under the heading Quantity and nature of goods. 

Discussing the fact that, if the second proviso were applied in the present case, then it would even be applicable to a tie-pen or a fountain-pen which had a gold nib. This shall make the Indian laws unnecessarily harsh or unreasonable. However, this is incorrect. There must be a difference between what is personal baggage and what is not. Hence, if a person is carrying something which must be declared and listed in the aircraft’s manifest, one must do it. There should not be complaints of the Indian laws being unreasonable.     

Whether subordinate or delegated legislation be in force from its date of issue and publication when published only in India? 

The court referred to the respondent’s arguments that the notification was mere subordinate or delegated legislation. To the issue of whether such notification is in force from its date of issue and publication, the respondent argued that since it was only published in the Gazette of India on November 24, 1962, and the respondent left Zurich on November 27, 1962. There was a chance that the respondent would not have knowledge about the new provisions. 

The court held that the notification had to be implemented and was meant to be known in India. The notification was published before the respondent left Zurich and, hence, it is not necessary for the law to be published or known outside the country. It had to be operated in India and, hence, the issue and publication were held valid. 

Whether the principle of ignorantia juris non excusat applicable here? 

The court held that the notification by the Reserve Bank had been published for the relevant public on November 25, 1962, and the publication was done as per the ordinary method of making laws and rules via the Official Gazette of India. Hence, in such a situation, the respondents plea that he was not acquainted with the law cannot afford him any relief. 

Whether the respondent be liable under Section 8(1) read with Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947? 

The court set out the provisions in the discussion of the present matter. The court held that the respondent is liable under Section 8(1) read with the Section 23(1-A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947. Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 prescribes that the mere physical act of bringing gold into the Indian territory is enough to commit the offence. The court held that the mental state or intention is not necessary to bring imposition of liability under Section 23(1-A).

Hence, the Court allowed the appeal and the sentence was reduced to the period already undergone by the respondent.

Dissenting view by Justice Subba Rao 

Justice Subba Rao referred to a case of the Sherras v. De Rutzen, where a licensed victualler had delivered liquor to a constable on duty, bonafidely believing the constable to be off duty. Wherein Wright J. stated that mens rea is an essential element for the commission of a criminal offence but should be subject to the words of the statute or the subject matter of the offence. Both of these aspects are crucial to consider while deciding the matter.  

Further, in the case of Privy Council in Jacob Bruhn v. King (1909), the case deals with the Straits Settlements Opium Ordinance, 1906. According to Section 73 of the Ordinance, every person other than an opium farmer is prohibited from importing or exporting opium. In case any person does the prohibited act then he shall be accused of committing a crime under the Ordinance. The Judicial Committee observed there that the burden of proving the facts rests on the accused, making the knowledge of the crime an essential element. 

In the case of Rex v. Jacobs [1944] K.B. 417, an agreement to sell goods at a controlled price. But they sold at the higher prices stating that they were unaware of the correct price. Herein the jury while deciding the case stated that in this case, they do not need to prove the permitted price was known by the accused, but they must prove that they sold the goods at a higher price. This indicates that the mens rea is not a necessary element of the offence. Similar concepts and findings were stated in the case of Pearks Dairies Ltd. v. Tottenham Food Control Committee [1919] 88 L.J. K.B. 623

In the case of the State of Coorg v. P.K. Assu & Anr. (1955), the driver and cleaner carried a lorry with them without the required permissions as per the Essential Supplies (Temporary Powers) Act, 1946. However, they were not held guilty because they did not have knowledge that the lorry contained food grains. This was also observed in the case of State v. Sheo Prasad Jaiswal (1956), where the master was not held liable for the act of the servant, he did not have a guilty mind. 

The Calcutta High Court in C.T. Prim & Anr. v. The State (1959) stated that unless the statute clearly set out mens rea from the essential of the crime, no person can be held guilty without having a guilty mind. 

Justice Subba Rao observed that the respondent boarded the plane by November 27, 1962,  due to which the respondent did not have the knowledge of notification to declare in the manifest for transit as transhipment cargo.

Justice Subba Rao made his dissent, stating that the respondent should not be held guilty because there was no knowledge or intention behind bringing gold into India. According to Justice Subba Rao, mens rea is an essential ingredient in a statutory offence. Regardless of the law framed to promote social welfare, it does not remove mens rea from being an essential ingredient for an offence.

Imperator v. Leslie Gwilt (1944) 

This case is related to Rule 119 of the Defence of India Rules, 1937, wherein the court held that the notification of an order was not properly published under the rule. Hence, the accused was not held guilty of violating the order. 

The court in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George observed that, if there are any specific compliances mentioned in the rules or laws, failure to comply with them may amount to an ineffective order. In the absence of any such statutory requirement, the usual form of publication in the country must be followed.  

The Reserve Bank of India had published the notification in the Official Gazette of India, hence, even after considering the judgement of Imperator v. Leslie Gwilt, the respondent was held guilty. 

Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd v. Jasjit Singh (1964)  

In this case, mens rea was not considered an essential ingredient when, under Section 52A of the Sea Customs Prohibition Act, 1878, there was an absolute prohibition on the entry of certain vessels, which made the objective of the law clear. 

Similarly, in this case, the smuggling of gold is a well-knit organised crime in which such persons, by various means, undertake such activities for profits. The intention of the section was clear enough to stop such illegal activities, and thus, the court held that this case was very apt in decision-making. 

Srinivas Mall Bairoliya v. King Emperor (1947)

This case was dealt with by the court, wherein the questions were raised on the conviction under the Defense of India Act, 1939. Appellants had assigned a servant the task of salt distribution to retail dealers. The servant was supposed to comply with rules related to price control. However, the servant failed to comply with those rules. The master was held liable under the principle of vicarious liability, regardless of the fact that the employer did not have knowledge of the act. 

Hence, referring to the case, the court had determined that this conviction had no relation to mens rea or ignorance of the law. This was the case of vicarious liability. 

C.T. Prim and Anr. v.  The State (1959) 

The Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court delivered the judgement in a similar manner. In this case, it was stated that mens rea is an essential ingredient for a crime unless the law excludes it specifically. In criminal law, no person can be found guilty without having the intention of committing a crime. The bench mentioned that it was a settled principle under the common law that mens rea is an essential ingredient. 

The court added that the object of the Act being public welfare or eradicating any public evil does not remove mens rea from being a necessary component of a crime unless mentioned in the law. It is important to note whether the statute or law is putting a person under strict liability to enforce the law efficiently. Hence, mens rea may not be considered necessary only in cases where the object of the statute or law gets defeated if mens rea is implied necessary. 

Regina v. St. Margarets Trust Ltd. (1958) 

In this case, the company, St. Margarets Trust Ltd., was accused of violating the Hire Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) Order, 1956. The objective of these laws was to control credit and maintain the economy of the country. The law stated that every hire purchase agreement must price the article and fix the maximum proportion to which a hirer shall be paid by a financing company. 

St. Margarets Trust Ltd. provided the hirer more than the permissible percentage by the law. The company did the said act because they were misled about the price of the car they sold. Hence, the major defence of the company was that they were unaware of the actual price of the car and should not be convicted of the offence. This defence of the company brought the question of mens rea into the case.  

The court here observed that the law aimed to strictly prohibit such acts in order to decrease the risk of inflation. The court observed that the prohibition was absolute and noted that the violation need not be intentional only. Considering the seriousness of the issue, the court observed that it was the courts discretion to inflict nominal punishment or no punishment at all. 

Hence, the court held that regardless of the intention or knowledge of the company, they can still be held guilty of violating the law. Additionally, the court felt that this view was more appropriate in matters where the Parliament intended to strictly prohibit certain acts. 

The respondent, in this case, has strongly raised its defence on two major doctrines: mens rea and ignorance of law is no excuse. These doctrines have played an important role in the case, opening doors for a lot of discussions and interpretation. The explanation and meaning of the doctrines are as follows: 

Mens rea 

The concept of mens rea is based on the Latin maxim, actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea, which means that no crime can be committed without having a guilty mind. It is considered to be an essential element of a criminal offence. A person cannot be held guilty of a crime if that person did not have the intention or knowledge of causing such harm to the person or property in the eyes of the law. The defence of mens rea can be raised if the person has no intention, motive or knowledge of committing that particular act or offence.  

In this case, the mere act of bringing or sending gold within the territory of India was termed to be a crime; there was no scope for the defence of mens rea. 

Ignorantia juris non excusat 

Where in mens rea, the concept is that a person does an act without having the intention of doing it or having knowledge of committing an act, under this principle of ignorantia juris non excusat, it is to commit an act, but being unaware that the act committed is illegal in nature.  

This Latin maxim means that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. This principle is used in criminal and civil cases where the accused person makes a claim that they were unaware of the law of the land to escape from liability. This principle does not give relief to the accused from the guilt, but it reduces the liability and punishment of the offence. 

In this case, the court did not entertain the plea of the respondent that he was unaware of the law because the notification of the Reserve Bank of India was deemed to be published as per the procedure followed in India and was brought to the notice of the public. Hence, in this case, the respondent did not get any relief from the liability. 

The judgement of this case brings light to various crucial issues and Acts as an important landmark judgement for the Indian Courts. This brings us to the conclusion that where the objective of the legislation is clear and evident, where strict liability arises for the offender, in such cases, mens rea can be eliminated from the necessary ingredients of crime. The objective behind such a decision is to maintain the effectiveness and efficiency of the laws passed. Such decisions of the court demotivate the criminals and set a precedent for many more upcoming cases. 

What is the summary of the landmark judgement of the State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George?

In this case, the Supreme Court held that:

  1. Since Section 8(1) and Section 24(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act put the burden of proof on the accused that he had permission to bring gold to India, the question of mens rea does not arise. The provisions of the law clearly make the bringing or sending of gold without permission an offence. Hence, in such a case, there is a limitation to the scope of mens rea. 
  2. The notification of the Reserve Bank of India was held to be a valid publication and did not raise any defence of ignorance of the law for the respondent. 
  3. The court held that the amount of gold the respondent carried with him cannot be considered personal luggage and shall be classified as cargo. 

The court held the respondent was guilty and the imprisonment that he had already undergone was set off. 

What is strict liability? 

The concept of strict liability is where the cause of action is negligence, and intention does not matter. Merely, the act itself is enough to hold the person liable. In simpler words, whether the act was a negligent act, a careless act, or an intended act, it does not matter. Holding a person liable due to the risks and damages associated with the act is called strict liability. 

In the cases of strict liability, the respondent has the burden of proof for his/her innocence. In the case of the State of Maharashtra vs M H George, the action of the respondent of bringing the gold into the country without permission attracted strict liability upon him under Section 8 with Section 23(1A) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. 

What is a luckless victim? 

The concept of strict liability brings the idea of a luckless victim into play. The term luckless victim means where the person is held liable due to the principle of strict liability. Herein, the action of the person might not be intentional, but due to the laws of the land, a person is held liable under strict liability. Such a person is called to be a luckless victim.   

The court, in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George, coined the term luckless victim where the respondent was held strictly liable for the act of bringing gold into India without due permission. The court stated that in such cases where the legislature clearly imposes liability on the mere act, the intent does not matter. However, the court also stated that the imposition of strict liability should be fairly imposed and should be reasonable. 

When can mens rea be used as a defence? 

The defence of mens rea is used in cases where the accused is either unaware that the act was a crime or where the person did not intend to commit the offence. It refers to the state of mind of the accused at the time of committing an offence. The intention of the accused is the key in cases of mens rea. 

Hence, the defence of mens rea must be used in cases where there is reasonable doubt about the intention and state of mind of the accused. 

What is the popular maxim for ignorance of the law?

The Latin maxim of ignorantia juris non excusat means ignorance of law is not an excuse. This means that one cannot be saved from the liability of committing an offence on the ground that the accused was not aware of the law. The law does not provide any kind of immunity for such reasons in criminal cases.  

Is ignorance of fact always a defence under the law?

The Latin maxim ignorantia facti excusat, which means that if an individual is unaware of a fact and acts in good faith due to lack of knowledge, the person cannot be held liable. Ignorance of fact can be used as a good defence, but it might not work every time.  

What is subordinate or delegated legislation? 

Delegated (or subordinate or subsidiary) legislation refers to those laws made by persons or bodies to whom parliament has delegated law-making authority. When any law or Act confers anybody or individuals with rule-making powers, it is known as subordinate or delegated legislation. These laws either vest the present State or Central governments to draft rules and regulations or shall create boards and authorities for the implementation of the laws brought by the Parliament or the state legislature.

In precise form, subordinate or delegated legislation means to give some executive powers for the efficient implementation of rules and regulations. Generally, such powers are given to make rules or guidelines for speedy and effective actions. For instance, in the present case, the government was vested with the powers to make rules regarding the imports, exports and transit of gold in India. These powers were provided under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947.