R v Woollin

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R v Woollin
Court House of Lords
Decided 22 July 1998
Citation(s) [1999] 1 A.C. 82; [1998] 3 W.L.R. 382; [1998] 4 All E.R. 103
Cases cited R. v Nedrick (Ransford Delroy)
Legislation cited Criminal Appeal Act 1968; Criminal Justice Act 1967
Case history
Prior action(s) tbc
Subsequent action(s) none
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Browne-Wilkinson; Lord Nolan; Lord Steyn; Lord Hoffmann; Lord Hope of Craighead
Omissions; Intention, Mens Rea, Manslaughter

R v Woollin is a case in English criminal law, in which the subject of intention within mens rea was examined and refined.


Having given various explanations for his three-month-old son's injuries in the ambulance and in the first two police interviews, Woollin eventually admitted that he had 'lost his cool' when his son had choked on his food. He had picked him up, shaken him and thrown him across the room with considerable force towards a pram standing next to a wall about five feet away. He stated that he had not intended or thought that he would kill the child and had not wanted the child to die, but his actions caused the infant's death as the child hit the floor, missing the pram.


Lord Steyn affirmed the test in R v Nedrick, and Lord Hope of Craighead substituted the word 'infer' for 'find', that the jury may find indirect intention, i.e. the intention of the person who does not aim or need to kill or even to cause grievous bodily harm to anyone but nonetheless takes (what he knows to be) an outrageously high risk of doing so, if the result of the defendant's action was virtually certain to be death or grievous bodily harm (objective test), and the defendant personally foresaw this (subjective test):

“Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction 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.”

That they are only "not entitled to find the necessary intention" may imply that they have no obligation to find the necessary intention even where death or grievous bodily harm was a virtual certainty, affording the jury some discretion.

Woollin's murder conviction was quashed as the trial judge had put to the jury that there had to be "substantial risk" of death or grievous bodily harm, which was held to be far wider in scope than virtual certainty. The crown court originally convicted Woollin with murder of the child up on which the court of appeal upheld this decision. Later in the case, the House of Lords reversed the original decision made by the Crown Court now convicting Woollin of manslaughter.

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