Assess the modern approaches to the definition of ‘intention’ in English Criminal Law?
Intention is a fundamental term in English
Criminal Law. Numerous criminal offences are defined as to require the proof of intention. It might be expected that the meaning of such a fundamental term would be settle a long time ago, however , that is not the case. Over the years there had been conflicting debate and courts had faced great difficulty in defining intention. Intention had been defined inconsistently and ambiguously by different judges in different contexts. The debate starts with DPP v Smith (1961) and ends with R v Woolin (1998)
In a criminal trial the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond all reasonable doubt” as confirmed in the case of Woolmington v DPP (1935). A crime requires two elements : the actus reus and the mens rea . Once actus reus is established by the Crown Prosecution service (CPS) the mens rea needs to be proven. There are four types of mens rea. They are intention, negligence, recklessness and knowledge. Intention and recklessness are hierarchical concepts therefore a clear boundary has to be drawn in order to label appropriate criminal liability. Furthermore, it is the task of the juries to decide whether or not the accused did or did not intend the consequence, the legal definition of intention should be clear and correspond to the possible ordinary meaning of the word. If the legal definition deviates significantly from the ordinary meaning it is possible that the jury may not understand the judges direction and take wrong decisions. The mens rea of the commom law offence murder is “malice aforethought”. This means nothing more than an intention to kil and nothing more than intention to cause grievous bodily harm. If we take murder as an example we can see the difficulties the meaning of “intention” imposes. For instance, does malice aforethought ( intention to kill/ cause grievous bodily harm) constitute those circumstances where the defendant committed an act, but killing was not his primary aim, but resulted nevertheless,and he recognized that it was possible that death would naturally occur out of his actions? If so, how “possible” does death have to have been before it is regarded as an intention? Intention
‘Intention is central to the cogent notion of criminal liability’ (Wilson). Intention has no statutory definition , therefore , we have to look at case laws. In R v Mohan (1976), Lord Justice James explained that intention meant to ‘aim’ or ‘bring about a particular consequence’. He considered that it was irrelevant whether the result was likely or unlikely to occur. It has also been made clear that there is a clear distinction between intention and motive ( Yip Chiu Chiang) . Motive is the reason behind the actors intention. There are two types of intention namely direct intent and oblique intent.
Direct intention is a situation where the defendant desires to bring about a particular action. The specific consequence is the main purpose or aim which results from the defendants actions. For instance in case of Bryne (1960) the defendant was a sadistic psychopath who liked to torture his victims. He would strangle the victim then cut open their body. It can be said that there was a direct intent to kill irrespective of the defendants mental condition
The more complex meaning is often called oblique intent. This covers the situation where the consequence was not the defendants action but something occurred as a result of the defendants actions. He realizes, however, that the consequence is almost inevitable if he pursues his current course of action. This covers events which are side effects of the defendant’s actions.
Law reform Commission
There has been may suggestions and proposals for reform of the law of intention over the years due to its complicity. In 2006,...
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