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Crime VII - Mens Rea III

Updated on August 6, 2017

The test in DPP v Smith (1961) was supplanted by Section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act (1967) - proof of criminal intent. A court or jury, in determining whether a person has committed an offence -

(a) shall not be bound in law to infer that he intended or foresaw a result of his actions by reason only of its being a natural and probable consequence of those actions; but

(b) shall decide whether he did intend or foresee that result by reference to all the evidence, drawing such inferences from the evidence as appear proper in the circumstances.

Where a person forms the intention to kill and has made up his mind to do so but subsequently lacks the courage to do so and in order to enable him to do so consumes alcohol or any other stimulant that would temporarily deprive him of his senses and then proceeds to commit the act; that person would be deemed to have the intention to kill and the act of killing will be regarded as murder.

In Attorney-General of Northern Ireland v Gallagher (1961) the accused had a violent twist to his personality and often acted in a deranged manner, especially after he had consumed alcohol and was particularly violent towards his wife.

The accused spent some time in a mental institution, for which he blamed his wife and upon release he made up his mind to kill her. However, in order to work himself into a fit or have the courage to kill his wife, he drank down a bottle of whisky, and once he had reached the level of intoxication where he was deprived of his senses, he killed his wife with a knife and a hammer. The accused was charged and convicted of murder. He appealed on the grounds that at the time he committed the act he was deprived of his senses and sought to raise the defense of insanity.

The House of Lords upheld the conviction, in that, at the time he formed the intent to kill his wife, he was in full control of his senses and therefore the act of killing his wife was premeditated and it was done with malice aforethought. The fact that he needed to consume alcohol to acquire the courage to kill his wife does not mitigate the act in anyway.

It’s worth comparing the decision in Attorney-General of Northern Ireland v Gallagher (1961) with that of R v Lipman (1969). In R v Lipman (1969) the accused was high on LSD and was hallucinating at the time. He was, as far as he was concerned, battling serpents somewhere and unwittingly stuffed bed sheets into the mouth of a little girl who died as a result. The accused was charged.

The court decided that the accused was not guilty of murder because he neither had the intention to kill prior to committing the act or at the time of committing the act. However, he had still taken the life of another and he was convicted of the offense of manslaughter.

The case highlights the difference between murder and manslaughter. In order to convict for murder the prosecution has to establish that there was intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm and if the prosecution fails to do that it can still go for manslaughter.

When the accused claims that the consequences of his or her actions were different from what he or she intended for example when an act is done to scare or to intimidate the victim but it leads to or results in death, the accused can be convicted of murder.

In Hyam v DPP (1974), Mrs. Hyam poured petrol (a flammable liquid) in the letterbox of her lover’s (Mr. Jones) new partner (Mrs. Booth) which she ignited by using a newspaper and a match to scare Mrs. Booth. The consequences of her actions were that Mrs. Booth’s children died as a result of asphyxia.

The house by a majority of three to two held that “No distinction is to be drawn in English law between the state of mind of one who does an act because he desires it to produce a particular evil consequence, and the state of mind of one who does the act knowing full well that it is likely to produce that consequence although it may not be the object he was seeking to achieve by doing the act” – Lord Diplock. The accused was convicted of murder.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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