Criminal Justice Act Essay Sample

With regard to the law of intention it was hoped ‘Woollin would have seen an end to the misunderstanding of the criminal laws concept of intention. ’[1] The law of intention has been one that has been at the centre of ‘theoretical debate and judicial disagreement’[2] for many decades and is still one that is not completely understood, even though many have tried to define it.

There are two types of intention, direct and oblique. While direct intention has proven much easier to define, oblique intention continues to create confusion within the courts and this has caused several questions to arise, particularly questions regarding good motives and morality. ‘The courts and even Parliament have attempted to define the concept of oblique intention’[3] yet with little success.

While many would argue that the Nedrick[4] and Woollin[5] guidelines has resolved the ‘lingering tension between a law of virtual certainty and guidelines based on Hyam-style recklessness,’[6] some would disagree and claim that Woollin has not actually had much affect on the law of intention, but simply changed the wording and failed to give the law a true definition of intention. Some may even go as far as arguing that there is still uncertainty within the law.

However, while the definition may still be unclear, one thing that can be agreed on is that the law works in a satisfactory manner and cases such as R v Steane[7], Re A (Children)[8] and R v Matthew and Alleyne[9] are clear evidence of this. While the definition is unclear and problematic the way in which it works is not. The true definition of intention has been at the centre of debate for decades. ‘At present there is no legislative definition of intention,’[10]so it can be a problem finding what someone really intended.

Oblique intention is much less common than direct intention and relies on trying to find what the defendant intended based on the test of virtual certainty. The exact meaning of oblique intention has proven to be an issue for the courts, and even after the changes made in Woollin, it still seems to be just as unclear. The definition of intention has changed several times throughout the decades and while it has settled on the model provided by Nedrick and amended by Woollin it still seems to be unclear.

While many cases prior to Woollin and Nedrick, such as Hyam v DPP[11] and Moloney[12] had attempted create models in which future cases could follow they have been apprehensive in defining the term. The models they had set had been unclear, and created even more confusion with regard to the distinction of intention and recklessness and intention and causation. However, one thing that is clear and certain is that intention is a subjective concept and this has been confirmed by that of the section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967[13], after the case of DPP v. Smith[14], where it was clear that a objective approach resulted in a unfair conviction, as it was presumed the defendant was a reasonable man.

By using a subjective approach intention can be found based on what that particular person thought would be the consequence of their actions, rather than preparing them to that of a reasonable person. This provides fairness in the law, and can be said to comply with a persons human rights.

For example, a schizophrenia patient would have a completely different state of mind to that of a medically sound person and therefore would and should be given a different conviction, which the subjective approach allows. This was the situation in the case of R v Stephenson. [15] Even though, this case deals with the idea of recklessness, it provides an insight into how the jury can use the subjective approach to find what the defendant really intended, based on their individual characteristics.

As the defendant suffered from schizophrenia, it cannot be certain that he would have foreseen the consequences of his actions due to his illness and if an objective approach and the test of virtual certainty had be applied then it would have led to a unfair conviction. Motive is very often confused with intention. As Lord Bridge said in Moloney, ‘intention is something quite distinct from motive or desire. ’[16] A person may intend to carry out a crime, yet may have a good motive for it, however the defendant cannot be morally excused when they intended to cause harm.

The law is not interested as to why a person committed the act, but rather if you had the actus reas to commit the crime. [17] There are cases that ‘confined the definition of intention to motive whilst others have held, that intention should ignore motive and correspondence to aim or purpose. ’[18] However, these cases were not murder cases and they ‘diverge from the standard definition of intention. ’[19] The first, R v Steane deals with a father who had been convicted of assisting the enemy during the Second World War.

He claimed that he had no intention of assisting the enemy but did so in order to protect his family. The court held that if D’s act were as consistent with an innocent intent, the jury should be left to decide the matter. This diverges from the standard definition, since it was never discussed whether D knew that it was virtually certain his acts would assist the enemy. [20] This highlights the idea that Woollin must be remembered to only be guidelines and not a rule of law. Similarity, the case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority[21] saw the judge also favour a narrower definition of intention.

However, it can be argued that the reluctance of the judiciary to commit themselves to a particular definition of intention confirms that they need to preserve and element of flexibility so that they can continue to allow occasional divergences from the ‘standard’ definition. [22] Many doctors have to administer drugs and turn of life support machines knowing that the consequences may result in death, yet if it is proven to be in the best interest of the patient then it can be deemed as lawful. ‘The defence of double effect cancels out the effect of the bad consequences by an intention to provide a good effect.

’[23] This is shown in the case of Adams[24], who administered increasing doses of morphine to a patient who was terminally ill. Devlin J directed the jury by saying ‘he is entitled to do all that is proper and necessary to relive pain and suffering even if measures he takes may incidentally shorten life. ’[25] Therefore, even though doctor’s actions may result it death, they do not have the mens rea for the offence. This is supported in the case of Re A (Children), where it was said that the children’s welfare was most important.

The two twins, Mary and Jodie, were conjoined, and needed a operation to separate them, however, this would without a doubt result in Mary dying, as she was to weak to survive on her own, and the doctors knew this was the case. If the test of virtual certainty was applied in isolation then it would have of returned the conclusion that the doctor had intended for Mary to die in order to prolong Jodie’s life, and he could then be convicted for murder. However, as the law is subjective and the jury is not bound to find intention, but rather use the evidence to find intention, it can be found that the doctor was indeed lawful.

He may have killed Mary in order to prolong Jodie’s life, but it was intended with good motive and the law ‘permits such a action if it can be justified. ’[26] If the operation to separate them had not happened, then both the twins would have died before their first birthday. This allows the courts to have the ‘power to develop new defences’[27] with regard to medical liability ‘so as to ensure that what they regard as important moral distinctions are marked appropriately. ’[28]