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   Home      R v Cunningham [1982]
R v Cunningham [1982] AC 566 House of Lords

The defendant attacked the victim in a pub believing (wrongly) that the victim had had sexual relations with his fiancé. The defendant knocked him to the ground and repeatedly struck him on the head with a bar stool. The victim suffered a fractured skull and a subdural haemorrhage from which he died 7 days later. The jury convicted the defendant of murder having found that he intended really serious harm at the time of the attack. The defendant appealed contending that the law of murder should be confined to those who intend to kill and thus the decision in R v Vickers was wrongly decided. The defendant relied upon dissenting judgment of Lord Diplock in Hyam.


The House of Lords declined the opportunity to use the 1966 Practice Statement. The mens rea of murder remains intention to kill or intention to cause GBH.

Lord Hailsham:
Having reached this conclusion, I doubt whether I possess moral or
intellectual agility to discern exactly what I would have done with regard
to the Practice Direction had I reached an opposite view. But I am
impressed by the stance Lord Reid took in Knuller Ltd. v. D.P.P. [1913] A.C. 435 at 455, where he refused to invoke the Practice Direction in support of his own previous dissent in Shaw v. D.P.P. and I am impressed by the arguments of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest and Lord Simon of Glaisdale in the same case in favour of caution. Nor can I disregard the fact that had I reached a different conclusion I should have been saying that between 1957 and the abolition of capital punishment for murder, a number of persons (including Vickers himself) would have been executed when they ought only to have been convicted at common law of manslaughter had the trial judge anticipated my putative decision. Under the express terms of the Practice Direction stare decisis is still the indispensable foundation of the use by your Lordships of the appellate jurisdiction of the House and its normal practice. Especially must this be so in criminal law, where certainty is indeed a condition of its commanding and retaining respect.
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