Explain and evaluate the meaning of intention.

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“Numerous offences are defined so as to require proof of ‘intention’ … It might be expected that the meaning of such a fundamental term would have been settled long ago but this is not so. The cases are inconsistent, judicial opinion has recently changed and there is still some measure of uncertainty.”

(Ormerod, D Smith and Hogan’s Criminal Law, 2005, p.93)

With particular reference to recent authority and academic critiques, explain and evaluate the meaning of intention in the light of this statement.

Intention is one of the main forms of mens rea, the absolute meaning of this term, however, is unsettled and the legal modifications and definitions regarding this term have undergone much academic scrutiny over the years. There are several forms of intention, the main two being direct intent, and oblique (or indirect) intent. There is also specific intent, basic intent and ulterior intent. It is thoroughly established that direct intent is defined as when it is a persons aim to bring about a certain consequence. With many crimes it is not necessary to prove that the actus reus was intended, however some crimes do require an intention, for example murder requires intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm; recklessness is not adequate. This is why it can be vital to find out whether there was intention. In the case of R v Moloney [1985], Lord Bridge of Harwich claimed that when dealing with intention rather than confusing the jury with the legal definition of the word they should “leave it to the jury's good sense to decide whether the accused acted with the necessary intent ...”, this shows that the legal meaning and the everyday meaning are not entirely dissimilar.

However there is much uncertainty over oblique intent. This is when an intention is inferred because of the level of forseeability of the consequences. Oblique intent was described in the Draft Criminal Code for England and Wales as “when he acts either in order to bring it about or being aware that it will occur in the ordinary course of events”. Professor John Smith, however, criticised this definition on the grounds that it “enables a person to be held as having intended a result that it was his purpose to avoid”. Another problem with oblique intent is that a court must make a decision over what level of foresight is necessary in order for it to be oblique intent, as opposed to recklessness for example.

In the case of DPP v Smith [1961], in which the defendant killed a policeman by driving off with him clinging on to the car, it was stated that “The question is not what the accused actually contemplated to be the consequences of his act, but what in all the circumstances the ordinary reasonable man would have contemplated to be the natural and probable result”. This objective ruling regarding foresight was disapproved of in the case of R v Moloney [1985] and from then onwards the mental element of murder has only been looked at subjectively. In this case the defendant had shot his step-father and was convicted of murder. He claimed that it was “just a lark” and he had not intended to kill his step-father. It was held that the appeal was allowed substituting murder for manslaughter. It was stated that “the probability of the accused having forseen the consequences must be little short of overwhelming if the intent is to be established”. Lord Bridge of Harwich was claiming that it was not necessary in most cases to look at the forseeability of the consequences. Williams, however, criticises Lord Bridge, accusing him in Moloney of “speaking in riddles”.

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In the case of R v Hancock and Shankland [1986] the House of Lords disapproved the guidelines it had set down in R v Moloney [1985] only 11 months earlier. In this case H and S pushed a block of concrete onto a road to stop a taxi taking a minor to work; consequently the taxi driver was killed. The House of Lords quashed the murder convictions and stated that the judge should explain to the jury that “the greater the probability of the consequence the more likely it was that the consequence was forseen, and that if it was forseen ...

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