Intention

Intention amounts to the individual’s aim or purpose or decision to bring about a particular consequence.

An understanding of the court’s approach to intention is important if one is to properly understand the principles of mens rea.  The criminal law is about prohibiting behaviour which is unacceptable to society as a whole.  It is about protecting society and holding to account perpetrators of offences.  The criminal law is concerned with 'blameworthiness'.

Some offences are more serious than others – the more serious the offence the higher the level of mens rea.  Intention is reserved for the serious offences i.e. murder, wounding with intent under S18 OAP 1861 and robbery.  These levels can be likened to a pyramid; at the top are the serious offences where intention must be proven.  Below this comes recklessness for less serious offences such as manslaughter, rape, some assaults and criminal damage.  Negligence is below this and is reserved for specific offences such as traffic and driving offences.  Finally at the bottom are strict liability offences which are largely regulatory in nature.

For those offences where it must be shown that the defendant intended to commit the actus reus it will be a matter of evidence for the jury to decide.  In many cases there will be evidence of conduct and behaviour as well as forensic and other evidence which collectively may condemn the accused in the absence of a plausible account.

Intention amounts to the individual’s aim or purpose or decision to bring about a particular consequence. Intention is not the same as motive.

Direct intention has been defined by Mohan (1976) as a person desiring to bring about the consequences of his actions.

In the case of Woollin (1998) the House of Lords took the opportunity to consider the point again.  The defendant was found to have shaken his young baby and then thrown him across the room in the direction of his pram. On this occasion the House of Lords decided that the jury may only find intention if they are satisfied that serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty following the accused’s act and that the accused appreciated that fact.  The word ‘find’ was preferred by Lord Steyne in preference to the word ‘infer’.  This ruling was based on what the court considered to be the correct part of the Court of Appeal’s ruling as to the law in Nedrick (1986).

Discuss the meaning of intention in criminal law

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