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Section B Mens Rea
Mens rea is a Latin term meaning guilty mind. It deals with the state of mind of the defendant
at the time he committed the crime. There are two main types of mens rea. These are:
For some crimes, however, a person can be found guilty without a guilty mind. These are
generally known as crimes of strict liability.
Intention is the most blameworthy state of mind under the law. In most serious crimes, such
as murder, robbery and burglary, it is necessary for the prosecution to prove that the defendant
intended to commit the offence. The law provides no clear definition of "intention".
There are, though, clearly two different types of intention. The first, known as direct intent,
describes situations where it is the defendant's purpose to bring about the unlawful
consequence. For example, when Romeo kills Tybalt with a knife while seeking revenge for
the death of Mercutio, it is clear that he achieved his purpose. This would be a case of direct
However, if a mill owner set off a bomb on his premises during working hours in order to
collect the insurance value of his property, and the whole workforce is killed, he can still be
regarded as intending their deaths, even though it isn't his purpose.
The House of Lords adopted this approach to intention based upon foresight of the
consequence as a virtual certainty. This is sometimes called oblique intent.
R v Woollin (1999) HL
Woollin was convicted of murdering his three month old son. He was alleged to have lost his
temper and hurled him onto the kitchen floor, causing him to fracture his skull and die.
The HL said that the jury may find intent on the part of the defendant where:
1. death or gbh was virtually certain to result from the accused's acts and
2. the accused actually foresaw this.
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Recklessness is taking an unjustified risk.
R v Cunningham (1957) CA
While attempting to steal money from a gas meter, Cunningham ripped the meter off the wall,
allowing gas to escape and endanger the life of a neighbour. He could only be found guilty of
"maliciously administering a noxious thing so as to endanger life" if he acted deliberately to
endanger life, or if he recklessly endangered life. To be reckless he has to see the risk and
then choose to take that risk.…read more