Direct v Woollin a favourable starting point to

Direct intent refers to one of the ways we can satisfy our definition of intention in relation to mens rea in criminal law; concerned with the presence of purpose and aim behind unlawful acts. It’s worth noting that such intention does not require forethought; only to be present at the time of action; there are also two elements of direct intent firstly being the result element, because the defendant has acted to cause an outcome, and also the circumstance element, where the defendant hopes to bring about the circumstance.

When reviewing the relevant case law proceeding R v Woollin a favourable starting point to take the case of DPP v Smith 1961 AC 290, one of the first examples in the modern law of the troubles courts face in sufficiently defining oblique intent. The facts of the case are as such: A policeman tried to stop the defendant from driving off with stolen goods by jumping onto the bonnet, the defendant drove off at speed to get the officer off of the car. The defendant argued he did not intend to harm the policeman, however, the policeman dropped into oncoming traffic being hit by a car and subsequently killed. The trial judge directed the jury to take on an objective view of intention, stating that “if you are satisfied that he must as a reasonable man have contemplated that grievous bodily harm was likely to result to that officer, and the officer died in consequence, then the accused is guilty of capital murder”. The jury convicted him murder, however, the defendant appealed on the grounds they had been misdirected and that a subjective test was necessary. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction for murder, applying a subjective test instead. However, the prosecution appealed to the House of Lords who re-instated the murder conviction. This case is key in beginning to evaluate and assess the development of courts’ definition of oblique intent over time, as it is a rare example of an objective test being applied, as this position was reversed by statute in s8 Criminal Justice Act 1967, which stated that a jury “shall not be bound in law to infer that he intended or foresaw a result of his actions by reason only of its being a natural and probable consequence of those actions”.

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A case of relevance where s8 Criminal Justice Act 1967 was considered is that of R v Hyam 1975 AC 55, whereby a former partner of one Mr Jones drove to his soon to be wife Mrs Booth’s house at 02:00, she proceeded to pour petrol into the house through the letterbox followed by igniting it. Afterwards going home not telling anyone what had occurred. Mrs Booth and her son escaped, however, her daughters were killed. The jury was directed that sufficient intent could be established if they were satisfied when the accused set fire to the house she knew it was highly probable this would cause death or serious bodily harm. The jury convicted of murder, however, the appellant appealed to the House of Lords that knowledge of a certain consequence being highly probable does not establish intent but the only evidence for the jury to infer so. The conviction was upheld, much to Lord Hailsham’s protest stating, “I do not believe that knowledge or any degree of foresight is enough.”. This dissent stems from the fact that although it was accepted a subjective test was applicable, the majority decision by the House of Lords was out of Line with s.8 as it was accepted foresight of consequences was sufficient to establish intent. Therefore, it can be argued that although the meaning of oblique intent had developed from an objective to subjective one through statute, in practice old principles were merely still being used.

However, attempts to rectify this issue was made in the case of R v Moloney 1985 AC 905. The defendant killed his stepfather by shooting him in a challenge the pair were undergoing. Evidence suggested they had a good relationship, and as they were celebrating a wedding anniversary, both had consumed quantities of alcohol. The defendant told his step-father he wanted to leave the army, to which he condemned the defendant. It was from there a challenge ensued to see who could load, draw and shoot a gun quicker, the defendant then did but in his drunken state did not realise the gun was aimed at the stepfather and shot him. The trial judge directed on oblique intent and the jury convicted, The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal thus it was taken to the House of Lords instead. It was held that the defendant’s conviction for murder was substituted for manslaughter. Lord Bridge believed when directing a jury on mental elements necessary for intent, the judge should avoid any elaboration of what is mean by intent, leaving it to the jury unless necessary. He also gave direction on the approach for the test on oblique intent, proposing 2 questions to be considered: firstly, was the relevant consequence a natural consequence of the defendant’s voluntary act. Secondly, did the defendant foresee that consequence as being a natural one of their act, if both answers are yes, the intention of that consequence can be inferred. This is yet another example of further developments of the meaning of oblique intent, however, a rather vexing issue for courts is raised in that it was left unclear to what degree of probability was required for sufficient intent.

In the case if R v Nedrick, the test was reformulated by Lord Lane CJ, who said “the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty as a result of the defendant’s actions, and they appreciated that was the case.” The authority of this test was questioned in R v Woollin; The House of Lords mostly approved of the test but made some minor modifications which became the current test for oblique intent, altering “to infer” to “to find” the necessary intention.

When considering whether a statutory definition of intention should be enacted we must weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. An advantage of the current approach is the discretion it allows of the jury, which can be adapted to specific cases rather than having to follow a rigid framework. However, this same discretion also means trouble could arise as ultimately different juries may come to different conclusions with the same facts of a specific case. Despite this, it is still of my opinion more favourable to not enact a statutory definition of intention as there is not enough scope for it to be able to deal with all criminal law matter circumstances. Furthermore, when considering either a subjective or objective approach, I believe subjective to be more favourable for similar reasons. The subjective approach allows for more circumstances to be considered in courts’ decisions and can be said to be a more morally favourable way to proceed in certain difficult instances. However, it is also worth noting that a subjective approach does in some ways allow the jury to decide the law, rather than find it.


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