Direct intent refers to one of the ways we can satisfy our
definition of intention in relation to mens rea in criminal law, being
concerned with the presence of purpose and aim behind one’s unlawful act. It’s
worth noting that such intention does not require forethought, but only to be
present at the time of action; there are also two elements of direct intent
firstly being the result element, because the defendant has acted to cause an
outcome, and also the circumstance element, where the defendant hopes to bring
about the circumstance. Duff offers an alternative way of explaining direct
intention, in that we can define it in the sense that if the defendant’s
endeavour does not meet the virtually certain outcome it would be considered a “failure”.

When reviewing the relevant case law proceeding R v Woollin a favourable starting point to take the case of DPP v Smith 1961 AC 290, one of the
first examples in modern law of the troubles courts face in sufficiently
defining oblique intent. The facts of the case are as such: A policeman tried
to stop the defendant from driving off with stolen goods by jumping onto the
bonnet, to which the defendant drove off at speed to get the officer off of the
car. The defendant argued he did not intend to harm the policeman, however the
policeman dropped into oncoming traffic being hit by a car and subsequently
killed. The trial judge directed the jury to take on objective view of
intention, stating that “if you are
satisfied that he must as a reasonable man have contemplated that grievous
bodily harm was likely to result to that officer, and that such harm did happen
and the officer died in consequence, then the accused is guilty of capital
murder”. Arguably because of this, the jury convicted if murder, however
the defendant appealed on the grounds they had been misdirected and that a
subjective test was necessary. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction for
murder, applying a subjective test instead. However, the prosecution appealed to
the House of Lords who re-instated the murder conviction. This case is a key in
beginning to evaluate and assess the development of courts’ definition of
oblique intent over time, as it is a rare example of an objective test being
applied, as this position was reversed by statute in s8 Criminal Justice Act
1967, which stated that a jury “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 probably consequence of those actions”.

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A case of relevance where s8 Criminal Justice Act 1967 was considered is that
of R v Hyam 1975 AC 55, whereby a
former partner of one Mr Jones drove to his soon to be wife Mrs Booth’s house at
02:00, pouring petrol through the letter box and igniting it, followed by driving
home afterwards not alerting anyone of the incident. Mrs Booth and her son were
able to escape however her 2 daughters were killed. The jury were directed that
sufficient intent could be established if they were satisfied when the accused set
fire to the house she knew it was highly probable this would cause death or
serious bodily harm. The jury convicted of murder, however the appellant
appealed to the House of Lords that knowledge of a certain consequence being
highly probable does not establish intent but only evidence for the jury to
infer so. The conviction was upheld, much to Lord Hailsham’s dissent who stated
“I do not believe that knowledge or any degree of foresight is enough.
Knowledge or foresight is at best the material which entitles or compels a jury
to draw the necessary inference as to intention”. This dissent stems from the
fact that although it was accepted a subjective test was applicable, the majority
decision by the House of Lords was out of Line with s.8 as it was accepted
foresight of consequences was sufficient to establish intent.