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Mens Rea. The different types of mens rea are those of intention, recklessness, and negligence.

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22nd October, 2012 Criminal Law ?To intend a result is to aim to produce it and to be reckless as to a result is to foresee it?. Is that an accurate summary of the law? Mens rea is the mental fault element of a crime, which creates culpability when it coincides the actus reus of the same crime. Mens rea or the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the crime is essential for his being held criminally liable and no act of the defendant, regardless of the seriousness of the consequences it may cause, can be punishable if there is a lack of this mental element. This ensures that only those who are truly considered blameworthy get convicted. The different types of mens rea are those of intention, recklessness, and negligence. Criminal law tends to define intention and recklessness by borrowing their English dictionary meanings, simply of aim or purpose for the former and ?disregard for the consequences of an action? for the latter. In this generally broad sense, the law may be summarised to find that to intend a result is to aim to produce it and to be reckless as to a result is to foresee it. However, application of this broad law is subject to precedents with widely differing circumstances and conclusions, thereby disallowing the laying down of concrete principles. A rigid definition of the law in this context is often even considered counter-productive and the courts and legislations try to enable comprehensive interpretation to fit the unique circumstances of each case. The defendant is said to have intended for a consequence to take place if while performing the action leading to the consequence, he meant for the consequence to occur. To only take the purpose of the defendant into account while holding him criminally liable is following the ?pure intention? view. The ?oblique (indirect) intention? definition of intention expands to include foreseeability, i.e. ...read more.


This state of mind was equated to the defendant being aware of the situation. The appeal was consequently dismissed. Another definition of recklessness used to be that of Caldwell recklessness, the application of which was later discontinued by the House of Lords. Caldwell recklessness defines recklessness as the failure to consider an obvious risk that a person is aware of. It differs from the Cunningham recklessness to the extent that it includes even those who may not have been aware of such a risk posed. In Elliot v C[9], a 14-year-old mentally handicapped girl lit fire to a shed and was convicted on the grounds that she failed to see the obvious danger of lighting fire in shed. In R v G and R[10], two boys (11 and 12 yrs old) decided to picnic outdoors and afterwards left burning newspapers under a wheelie bin. There was damage to property of over 1 billion pounds as a consequence of a fire started by the boys and the children were convicted of arson on the basis of Caldwell recklessness. In the House of Lords, this decision was overturned and a departure from Caldwell was observed due to the following reasons. Firstly, it was believed that it was important to consider the state of mind of the defendant before conviction and Caldwell recklessness sometimes did not allow this. Secondly, the definition led to some ?obviously unfair decisions?, which could be seen from the fact that they opposed the sense of the juries deciding these cases. Further, there was also a multitude of academic criticism for Caldwell recklessness, which the Lords felt should not have been entirely ignored. Lastly, and most importantly, it was held that the interpretation of ?reckless? in Caldwell was incorrect. ?Reckless? was construed to mean that mens rea required to be read into every crime, following previous dicta of courts where all criminal liability required an existence of mens rea. ...read more.


However, the intent to murder or cause serious bodily harm to the woman could not be transferred to the foetus through the doctrine of transferred malice, as the foetus was not seen to be an existent human being by law. A conviction of murder would require the specific intent to kill a particular person and that intent could not be found in the case of a foetus. As a result, the man was convicted of manslaughter, which does not require any specific intent. One can then reasonably argue that intent and recklessness are in a majority of cases given their dictionary meanings of ?aiming to achieve a particular consequence? and ?disregard of the potential risk of actions?. However, there is a wide range of interpretations of these meanings, stretching the scope of criminal liability to be covered for differing mental faults of different crimes. Exceptions to a strict definition then become a norm and we lack complete clarity as to the application of laws and precedents on intent and recklessness. While the law could be summarised to the statement in question, it would be a summary that would ignore the nuances in criminal law and may not, therefore, be completely accurate. ________________ [1] Woollin [1999] AC 82 (noted (1999) LQR 17) [2] Nedrick [1986] 8 Cr. App. R. (S.) 179 [3] Lord Steyn, R v Woollin [1999] AC 82 (noted (1999) LQR 17) [4] Moloney [1985] AC 905 [5] Hancock [1986] A.C. 455 [6] Matthews and Alleyne [2003] Crim LR 553 [7] Stephenson [1979] QB 695 [8] R v Parker [1977] 2 All ER 37 [9] Elliot v C [1983] 2 All ER 1005 (DC) [10] R v G and R [2003] UKHL 50 [11] Majewksi [1977] AC 443 [12] Majewski [1977] A.C. 443 HL at 479-480 [13] R v Heard [2007] EWCA Crim 125 [14] Hardie [1985] 1 WLR 64 [15] A Simester, ?Intoxication is Never a Defence? [2009] Crim LR 3 [16] J. Horder ?Transferred Malice and the Remoteness of Unexpected Outcomes from Intentions, [2006] Crim LR [17] AG Ref (no.3 of 1994) [1997] 3 W.L.R. 421 ...read more.

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