The definition of Intention in criminal law is unclear.
The true definition of intention is not very clear, as there are different definitions by different courts. The term ‘intention’ in criminal law has been defined as direct intention whereby a consequence is intended and desired by the defendant, and indirect (oblique) intentionwhereby the defendant can foresee a virtual certainty.Many seriouscrimes require the proof of intention or recklessness on the part of defendant, and in criminal proceedings, the court or jury must decide whether the accused has the intention or the ability to foresee the result of his actions by reference to all circumstances of the case. Thus, ‘intention’ can be classified as particular, general and transferred intention. They are not bound by law to infer intention merely because the result is the natural and probable result of the action taken (Criminal Justice Act 1967). The mensrea of murder is malice aforethought, which the courts define as intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).Sir Edward Coke stated : “... the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being and under the King’s peace with malice aforethought, express or implied.” Regarding the meaning of “intention”, Steane1 is the leading authority against the view that intention includes foresight. As per Lord Goddard CJ held, “the appellant also asserted…that he never had the slightest idea or intention of assisting the enemy and what he did was done to save his wife and children….” It is for the prosecution to prove criminal intent and the jury is entitled to presume intention if they think that the act was carried out as free will of the accused, they would not be entitled to presume it if the circumstances showed that the act was done in subjection to the power of the enemy or if it was as equally consistent with an innocent intent as with a criminal intent, for example a desire to save his family from a concentration camp2.The definition of intention has been defined by the House of Lords in Moloney3which indicated the difference between motive and desire. As Lord Bridge of Harwich gave the guidance: “…[W]here a crime of specific intent was under consideration, including Hyam4 itself, they suggest to me that the probability of the consequence taken to have been foreseen must be little short of overwhelming before it will suffice to establish the necessary intent ….”5Thus, a person who kills a loved one dying from a terminal illness, in order to relieve pain and suffering, may well act out of good motives. Nevertheless, this does not prevent them having the necessary intention to kill see R v Inglis6.Afterwards, in Woollin7, it was established that intention can only be found when the defendant had foreseen the consequences as a virtually certain result of conduct. Thus, a defendant cannot be found guilty of murder unless it can be proved that his action was with the intention to kill or to cause GBH. In cases where a direction of intent is necessary, the jury should be instructed to uncover the extent to which the particular defendant foresaw causing death or GBH and only where there was evidence that the defendant foresaw death or GBH resulting from his actions, could the jury draw the conclusion that the defendant intended the consequences. This point was isolated by Lord Lane in Nedrick 8, “If the jury are satisfied that at the material time the defendant recognised that death or GBH would be virtually certain to result from his voluntary act, then that is a fact from which they may find it… ", 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 (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant's actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case." Section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 states that intention is a subjective topic. This is an...
Bibliography: Roe D. (2002) “Criminal Law” 2nd ed. Hodder & Stoughton
Glanville Williams, Text of Criminal Law (2nd edition, 1983)
Smith and Hogan, Criminal Law (Oxford, 3rd edition, 1973)
Hyam v. DPP (1975) A.C 55, HL
R v Moloney (1985) A.C
R v. Hancock and Shankland (1986) A.C. 455, HL
R v. Nedrick (1986) CA
R v. Woollin (1998) A.C. 82, HL
R v Inglis  1 WLR 1110 Court of Appeal
Table of Statute
Criminal Justice Act (1967)
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