Direct DPP v Smith [1961] AC 290, one

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Last updated: May 29, 2019

Direct intent refers to one of the ways we can satisfy ourdefinition of intention in relation to mens rea in criminal law, beingconcerned with the presence of purpose and aim behind one’s unlawful act. It’sworth noting that such intention does not require forethought, but only to bepresent at the time of action; there are also two elements of direct intentfirstly being the result element, because the defendant has acted to cause anoutcome, and also the circumstance element, where the defendant hopes to bringabout the circumstance. Duff offers an alternative way of explaining directintention, in that we can define it in the sense that if the defendant’sendeavour 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 thefirst examples in modern law of the troubles courts face in sufficientlydefining oblique intent. The facts of the case are as such: A policeman triedto stop the defendant from driving off with stolen goods by jumping onto thebonnet, to which the defendant drove off at speed to get the officer off of thecar. The defendant argued he did not intend to harm the policeman, however thepoliceman dropped into oncoming traffic being hit by a car and subsequentlykilled. The trial judge directed the jury to take on objective view ofintention, stating that “if you aresatisfied that he must as a reasonable man have contemplated that grievousbodily harm was likely to result to that officer, and that such harm did happenand the officer died in consequence, then the accused is guilty of capitalmurder”.

Arguably because of this, the jury convicted if murder, howeverthe defendant appealed on the grounds they had been misdirected and that asubjective test was necessary. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction formurder, applying a subjective test instead. However, the prosecution appealed tothe House of Lords who re-instated the murder conviction.

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This case is a key inbeginning to evaluate and assess the development of courts’ definition ofoblique intent over time, as it is a rare example of an objective test beingapplied, as this position was reversed by statute in s8 Criminal Justice Act1967, which stated that a jury “shall not be bound in law to infer that heintended or foresaw a result of his actions by reason only of its being anatural and probably consequence of those actions”.A case of relevance where s8 Criminal Justice Act 1967 was considered is thatof R v Hyam 1975 AC 55, whereby aformer partner of one Mr Jones drove to his soon to be wife Mrs Booth’s house at02:00, pouring petrol through the letter box and igniting it, followed by drivinghome afterwards not alerting anyone of the incident. Mrs Booth and her son wereable to escape however her 2 daughters were killed. The jury were directed thatsufficient intent could be established if they were satisfied when the accused setfire to the house she knew it was highly probable this would cause death orserious bodily harm. The jury convicted of murder, however the appellantappealed to the House of Lords that knowledge of a certain consequence beinghighly probable does not establish intent but only evidence for the jury toinfer so. The conviction was upheld, much to Lord Hailsham’s dissent 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 juryto draw the necessary inference as to intention”. This dissent stems from thefact that although it was accepted a subjective test was applicable, the majoritydecision by the House of Lords was out of Line with s.8 as it was acceptedforesight of consequences was sufficient to establish intent.

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