Direct law of the troubles courts face in sufficiently

Direct intent refers to one of the ways we can satisfy our
definition of intention in relation to mens rea in criminal law, being
concerned with the presence of purpose and aim behind one’s unlawful act. It’s
worth noting that such intention does not require forethought, but 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. Duff offers an alternative way of explaining direct
intention, in that we can define it in the sense that if the defendant’s
endeavour does not meet the virtually certain outcome it would be considered a “failure”.
Therefore

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 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, to which 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 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 that such harm did happen
and the officer died in consequence, then the accused is guilty of capital
murder”. Arguably because of this, the jury convicted if 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 a 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 probably 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 letter box
followed by igniting it. Afterwards she home afterwards not telling anyone what
had occurred. Mrs Booth and her son were able to escape however her 2 daughters
were killed. The jury were 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
only evidence for the jury to infer so. The conviction was upheld, much to Lord
Hailsham’s protest who stated “I do not believe that knowledge or any degree of
foresight is enough. Knowledge or foresight is at best the material which
entitles or compels a jury to draw the necessary inference as to intention”.
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 were made in the case of R v Moloney 1985 AC 905 which in fact
brought further issues regarding probability. The defendant killed his step- father
by shooting him in a challenge the pair were undergoing. Evidence suggested
they had a good relationship, 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 step-father said,
“I bet you don’t have the guts to pull the trigger” the defendant then did but
in his drunken state did not realise the gun was aimed at the stepfather. 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 went on to say that the golden rule should be 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 strictly
necessary to avoid misunderstanding. 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, then 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.