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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Murder: Mens Rea

Revision Note | A Level

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  • murder is an example of unlawful homicide and a common law offence
  • Sir Edward Coke: .. the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being and under the King’s peace with malice aforethought, express or implied...
  • actus reus is described by the first part and mens rea by the second
  • mens rea has one element: malice aforethought, which can be express or implied

Malice aforethought

  • Sir Edward Coke requires one element to be satisfied: malice aforethought
  • case law has developed the meaning of mens rea
  • no requirement for malice to be present

    Gray (1965)

    • D gave V, their child, a fatal overdose, because V was suffering a severely painful terminal illness
  • aforethought does not require thinking or planning beforehand, only that intention does not form after the act


  • mens rea of unlawful killing is satisfied by intention to kill
  • or cause grievous bodily harm

    Vickers (1957)

    • D broke into shop cellar and viciously attacked V, elderly female owner , V died from her injuries
    • held intention to inflict serious bodily harm was sufficient to impose liability for murder

    Cunningham (1981)

    • D hit V over the head with a stool, V died from head injuries
    • House of Lords held intention to cause really serious harm was sufficient for murder
  • express intention is straightforward, D shots V aiming to kill him
  • implied intention applies if D acting to cause serious harm which results in death

Foresight of consequences

  • when D’s main aim is not to kill or cause serious injury, known as oblique intention
  • brings into question D’s foresight
  • how far can intention to kill or cause serious injury be inferred from D foreseeing such consequences
  • Criminal Justice Act 1967

    • S8 A court or jury, in determining whether a person has committed an offence,-
      S8(a) 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 probable consequence of those actions; but
    • S8(b) shall decide whether he did intend or foresee that result by reference to all the evidence, drawing such inferences from the evidence as appear proper in the circumstances

    Moloney (1985)

    • D had been drinking with V, his stepfather
    • for a laugh challenged one another to see who was the fastest to load a gun, D won and pulled the trigger, killing V
    • D argued he had no intention to injury V, they were playing a game, D convicted of murder
    • House of Lords reduced to manslaughter, mere foresight of probable death was not sufficient for intention, although it could be used to infer intention by the jury
  • the greater the probability of a consequence, the more likely it was foreseen, if it was foreseen the more likely it was intended

    Hancock and Shankland (1986)

    • Ds were miners on strike, to stop others from going to work Ds pushed concrete block from a bridge onto the road, V a taxi driver, was driving a worker to the mine, block hit his vehicle, V died
    • Ds argued they only intended to block road, Ds were convicted of murder
    • House of Lords substituted for manslaughter, held the degree of probability of death or injury was of paramount importance
  • juries should ask whether consequence from D’s act was a virtual certainty
  • if D foresaw was a virtual certainty, then can reasonably infer that D intended consequence

    Nedrick (1986)

    • D poured paraffin through a woman’s letterbox and set alight, D intended to frighten her, V her child, died in the fire
    • jury found D guilty of murder, Court of Appeal changed to manslaughter
    • Lord Lane: .. 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 that the defendant appreciated that such was the case...
  • juries should ask whether consequence from D’s act was a virtual certainty
  • if D foresaw was a virtual certainty, then can reasonably find that D intended consequence

    Woolin (1998)

    • D feeding V his 3 month old son, V choked, D lost his temper and threw V towards his pram, V hit the wall and suffered fatal head injuries, D did not have direct intention
    • House of Lords approved Nedrick (1986) provided the word find was used instead of infer
  • foresight of consequences like a rule of evidence, from which jury may choose whether necessary intention exists

    Matthews and Alleyne (2003)

    • Ds pushed V into a river from a bridge, knowing he could not swim, Ds watched V head towards the bank but did not stay to see if he got out, V drowned
    • Court of Appeal held whether foresight of consequences was sufficient for intention matter for jury to decide


  • person commits murder when he kills another with necessary intent
  • intention to kill or cause serious bodily harm is required
  • foresight of consequences may be used, like evidence, by the jury to infer intent
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