Intention and the search for definition: A marriage of doctrinal inconsistency and incoherent desires.

Essay by blingin_keishaD, February 2006

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The paradigmatic status of intention as the locus classicus exposition of mens rea, has been subjected to continued criticism, primarily because of the insistence of orthodox criminal lawyers seeking to explain what is seemingly inexplicable. Throughout this paper, I shall explore the reasons why intention has come to occupy such a central position in criminal law doctrine. This will be achieved by analysing the search for the illusive definition pursued by the courts in a number of leading judgments. The cases which will be discussed shall be separated into two distinct categories. First, there exists the chronological development of those cases which debate the term intention and seek to rationalise and interpret it for the purpose of establishing certainty within the criminal law. Second, there are those cases which highlight the courts departure from the need to ensure doctrinal consistency and certainty in application, by employing interpretive techniques which mask value-judgments that are smuggled into the decision making process.

In particular, the definitional evolution will be evaluated to identify both inconsistencies with the formal doctrine itself, and also the pursuit of the understanding of intention via a conceptual explanation. At this point I will endeavour to show that the pursuit of the precise definition has entailed the diminishment of its role within criminal law doctrine. Only at this juncture can we posit the normative question, should intention be at the heart of criminal law?

Alan Norrie argued that "human agency is essentially composed of motives and intentions" , we conceive our intentions as a precursor to an action, with the aim that our intentions will ultimately acquire a specific end. Through cognitive and volitional states, we are able to accord intention an integral position in the making of a choice. An individual, who chooses to pursue an action which will...