Usually, the prosecution should prove that the defendant had committed the actus reus, which should be accompanied by an appropriate mens rea1. Mens rea can be translated as “guilty mind”2. In legal use, it can be crime-specific, focusing on the distinct mental state of the defendant for a particular crime, or consider the prevalent feature of the mental state across a variety of different crimes3. For many offences, liability can be based either on the defendant’s intention or recklessness.
‘Intention’ has no statutory definition. Thus, the meaning behind it has developed through the common law. In terms of moral philosophy, intention can be divided into two4. They are ‘direct’ intention and ‘oblique’ intention, both of which will be considered more thoroughly later.
In this essay, I define intention as a flexible concept; there are various ways we can express it. I begin with examining the conflict between orthodox subjectivist approach or morally substantive approach; and whether the law should distinguish between intention and foresight.
Next, I consider the definition of direct intention laid out in Mohan5 and Moloney6. Furthermore, based on the decisions in Steane7, Gillick8 and Dr. Moor’s case9, the distinction between motive and intention will be examined. Then, I will consider whether intention should be confined to purpose based on Chandler10 and Yip Chiu-Cheung11.
I then consider oblique intention and various judicial decisions before the case of Woollin12. Based on the decision in Hyam13 and the guidelines in Moloney14, Hancock and Shankland15 and Nedrick16, it appears that the law of oblique intention embraces the concept of foresight of high probability. However, this definition seems to be excluded from the statement of the present law17. Furthermore, I will consider the relation between recklessness and intention.
Then, I will examine whether the case of Woollin18 and the post-Woollin judicial decisions brought some clarification to the law of intention, and whether the definition of intention already exists.
In the end, I will examine the reform proposals by the Law Commission and their proposed definition of intention.
I conclude, based on all the reasons above, that there are several ways that intention could be defined. Defining direct intention does not cause as much problem as defining oblique intention, as the former is close to its ordinary, everyday meaning and is left to the common sense of the jury to interpret it. Although the current definition of oblique intention in the post-Woollin world is the foresight of virtual certainty, there are some issues regarding it.