To be criminally liable of any crime in the UK, a jury has to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the Actus Reus and the Mens Rea. The Actus Reus is the physical element of the crime; it is Latin for ‘guilty act’. The defendant’s act must be voluntary, for criminal liability to be proven. The Mens Rea is Latin for guilty mind; it is the most difficult to prove of the two. To be pronounced guilty of a crime, the Mens Rea requires that the defendant planned, his or her actions before enacting them. There are two types of Mens Rea; direct intention and oblique intention. Direct intention ‘corresponds with everyday definition of intention, and applies where the accused actually wants the result that occurs, and sets out to achieve it’ (Elliot & Quinn, 2010: 59). Oblique intention is when the ‘accused did not desire a particular result but in acting he or she did realise that it might occur’ (Elliot & Quinn, 2010: 60). I will illustrate, by using relevant case law, the difference between direct intention and oblique intention.
Oblique intention requires foresight of the consequences, finding oblique intent is difficult; as a result, there have been a number of cases, which have helped in clarifying the law of intention.
In the case of R v Maloney (1985), the defendant and the Victim (stepfather of the defendant), were drunk when they decided to have a contest of who can load and fire a gun more quickly. The defendant shot the victim without aiming as the victim taunted the defendant to fire the gun. Lord Bridge held ‘Foresight of consequences as an element bearing on the issue of intention in murder... belongs, not to the substantive law but the law of evidence’ (Molan, 2001: 95), oblique intent here is held that intention includes knowledge or foresight. The jury were told they were entitled infer intention. Applying the law to the fact, Jury held that the defendant did not foresee the consequence, so there was no direct intent or oblique intent, making the defendant not guilty of murder. However, it can be argued that if the defendant was using guns, whilst he was drunk, then the defendant must have foreseen the natural consequences of his act, taking in account that when the defendant rang the police he claimed to have just murdered his father. If he had mens rea of direct intent to kill his stepfather, he would have been made guilty of murder.
In the case of R v Hancock & Shankland (1986), the defendant has pushed concrete blocks over the bridge and into the road below them, as part of a minor protest. The concrete block fell and hit the victim’s car, killing him. Lord Scarman held ‘The issue of probability regarding death or serious injury is critical to determining intention’ (Fionda & Bryant, 2000: 5) Scarman said the R v Maloney (1985) guidelines were ‘unsafe’ and ‘misleading’ (sixthformlaw, no date, para. 9), therefore they required a reference to probability. R v Hancock & Shankland (1986) case held that the...