Criminal Intention

Essay by TEAPSUniversity, Bachelor'sC, February 2004

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Assess critically the importance of the decision of the House of Lords in Woollin [1999] AC 82, in understanding the concept of intention in English criminal law.

In order to assess critically the importance of the decision of the HL in Woollin, I will explore the contemporary case law. This will allow me to discuss the concept of intention in English law and then to make my own observations, recommendations and conclusions as to the importance of Woollin on this concept.

From 1961 the HL has considered the mens rea or the mental element necessary for murder, notably in DPP v Smith ; Hyam , Moloney ; and Hancock , It is arguable that not one of these decisions satisfactorily settled the law . Then in Nedrick the C.A. provided a model direction to follow, "a result foreseen as virtually certain was an intended result". Why then, has it taken the judiciary so long to reach a satisfactorily settled definition of intention?

The answer perhaps lies in Lord Edmund Davies' dissenting voice in Caldwell , a landmark case which dealt with objective recklessness opposed to subjective recklessness "The law in action compiles its own dictionary.

In time, what was originally the common coinage of speech acquires a different value in the pocket of the lawyer than when in the layman's purse."

The Criminal Justice Act 1967 at s. 8 provides,

A court or jury in determining whether a person has committed an offence, -

(a)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; but

(b)shall decide whether he did intend or foresee that result by reference to all the evidence, drawing such inferences from the evidence as...