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R v Woollin [1999]

Facts

  • The defendant threw his three-month old son at a wall in anger, but claimed that he did not intend to kill him
  • The judge directed the jury, applying R v Nedrick [1986], that the defendant could be said to have intended the death of the victim if there was a substantial risk of death which was appreciated by the defendant

Issue

  • Could the defendant be convicted of murder?

Decision

  • No

Reasoning

  • The conviction was unsafe, and one of manslaughter substituted
  • The judge was incorrect to use the term ‘substantial risk’ in place of ‘virtual certainty’, as doing so blurred the line between intention and recklessness
  • The Nedrick direction is almost the correct direction to give the jury, but for the replacement of the word ‘infer’ for the work ‘find’ (though there appears no logical explanation for this)
  • The correct direction is now as follows (combining Nedrick and Woollin):

    “Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction [intent to kill or cause GBH] is not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to find the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case.”

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