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R v Woollin [1999] AC 82 House of Lords

The appellant threw his 3 month old baby son on to a hard surface. The baby suffered a fractured skull and died. The trial judge directed the jury that if they were satisfied the defendant "must have realised and appreciated when he threw that child that there was a substantial risk that he would cause serious injury to it, then it would be open to you to find that he intended to cause injury to the child and you should convict him of murder." The jury convicted of murder and also rejected the defence of provocation. The defendant appealed on the grounds that in referring to 'substantial risk' the judge had widen the definition of murder and should have referred to virtual certainty in accordance with Nedrick guidance. The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal holding that there was no absolute obligation to refer to virtual certainty.

House of Lords held:

Murder conviction was substituted with manslaughter conviction. There was a material misdirection which expanded the mens rea of murder and therefore the murder conviction was unsafe. The House of Lords substantially agreed with the Nedrick guidelines with a minor modification. The appropriate direction is:


"Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction is not enough, 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 (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant's actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case.

The decision is one for the jury to be reached upon a consideration of all the evidence."
 
Back to lecture outline on mens rea - intention
 
Back to lecture outline on murder