Chapter 3 Interactive key cases

D set fire to a hotel where he had been employed. He was so drunk at the time that it did not occur to him that there might be people there whose lives might be endangered.

The House of Lords held that a person is reckless as to whether or not any property will be destroyed or damaged if he does an act which creates an obvious risk that property will be destroyed or damaged and when he does the act he either has not given any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk; or has recognized that there was some risk involved and has nonetheless gone on to do it.

D stole a gas meter and its contents from the cellar of a house and in so doing fractured a gas pipe. The gas escaped and V inhaled a considerable quantity of the gas. D was charged with maliciously causing another to take a noxious thing under s 23 Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Wherever the word ‘maliciously’ appears in a statutory crime, the prosecution must prove either that D intended to do the particular type of harm in fact done, or that D foresaw that such harm might be done.

The defendants attempted to rob V and then threw him from a bridge into a river, causing his death. V had told them he could not swim. The defendants either had the intent to kill when they threw V off the bridge, or they formed that intent when, having the opportunity to save him, they failed to do so.

The Court of Appeal recognized that acting deliberately with the appreciation of a virtual certainty of death did not necessarily amount to an intention to kill, but it was evidence from which intent to kill could be inferred. On facts such as these, there is very little to choose between a rule of evidence and one of substantive law.

D, a soldier, had been drinking heavily with his stepfather, V, all evening and V had boasted he could ‘outshoot, outload and outdraw’ D. D loaded two shotguns, fired one, and the bullet hit V, who was six feet away. D told the police, ‘I did not aim the gun. I just pulled the trigger and he was dead.’

The House of Lords laid down guidelines on what constituted the necessary mental element in murder. The judge should avoid any elaboration or paraphrase of what is meant by intent, and leave it to the jury’s good sense to decide. Where, however, a direction was needed, the judge should invite the jury to consider two questions. First, was death or really serious injury a natural consequence of the defendant’s voluntary act?
Secondly, did the defendant foresee that consequence as being a natural consequence of his act? The jury should then be told that if they answer yes to both questions it is a proper inference for them to draw that he intended that consequence. Foresight of consequences belongs not to the substantive law, but to the law of evidence.

Two boys, aged 11 and 12, set fire to newspapers in the yard at the back of a shop and threw the lit newspapers under a wheelie bin. They left the yard without putting out the fire. The burning newspapers set fire to the bin, spread to the shop, and caused £1m of damage. They expected the newspapers to burn themselves out on the concrete floor of the yard and it was accepted that neither of them appreciated the risk of the fire spreading in the way that it did. The trial judge had directed the jury in accordance with the objective test given in Caldwell.

The House of Lords held that a person acts recklessly within the meaning of s 1 Criminal Damage Act 1971 with respect to (1) a circumstance when he is aware that a risk exists or will exist; (2) a result when he is aware that a risk will occur and it is, in the circumstances known to him, unreasonable to take the risk.

D lost his temper and threw his three-month-old son onto a hard surface. The child sustained a fractured skull and died, and D was charged with murder.

Where D is charged with murder and the simple direction (that it is for the jury to decide whether D intended to kill or do serious bodily harm) 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 D’s actions and that D appreciated that was the case, the decision being one for them to reach on a consideration of all the evidence.

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