This essay will deliberate the extent to which the meaning of the concept of ‘intention’ in criminal law has proven controversial through analysis of pertinent case law and academic critiques. In particular this essay will explore how the concept of ‘intention’ has changed in various cases in chronological order and the effect this has had. The essay will then focus on the current criticisms of the concept and proposals for reform will be discussed. A conclusion will be made reasoning the extent of controversy that surrounds the concept of intention in both the past few decades and in the present day.
In many conduct crimes whereby the defendant’s conduct is required to produce a particular consequence, liability can either be based on his intention or his recklessness as to that consequence. The offences that are based on the proof of, and rely on the definition of ‘intention’ to find liability are most notably the more serious crimes, with much of the debate on the meaning of ‘intention’ being centred around the offence of murder. Nonetheless, intention is not defined in any statute therefore its meaning must be derived from judicial decisions, thus one would think that such an elementary term would have been definitively defined a long time ago; however this is not the case as we will see. Lord Steyn suggested obiter, in the House of Lords (HoL) judgement of R v Woolin, that ‘intention’ did not necessarily have precisely the same meaning in every context in criminal law.
There are two types of intention with regard to prohibited consequences, direct intention and indirect (oblique) intention. Direct intention is said to be when the accused foresaw the possibility that his act would bring about the proscribed consequence. For example if D is enraged by his supervisor at work and intends to kill him. To achieve this he purchases a gun and shoots him, achieving the desired result. Direct intention was also defined by the Court of Appeal (CA) in Mohan as: ‘a decision to bring about, insofar as it lies within the accused’s power, no matter whether the accused desired that consequence of his act or not’. In the more recent case of Re A it was expressed by Robert Walker CJ that the ‘natural and ordinary’ definition of intention was that of ‘purpose’. It is also valuable to highlight that motive and desire in English law as a general rule is said to be disregarded.
Conversely, oblique intention is said to be when the defendant embarks on a course of conduct to bring about a desired result, knowing that the consequence will also bring about another result. For example if D plans to rob a bank, to open the safe he will have to use explosives. There is a security guard within a metre of the safe door who he is aware of yet proceeds with the act and consequently the security guard is killed by the explosives.