R v. Woollin  AC 82
The appellant lost his temper and threw his three-month-old baby on a hard surface, causing the baby to suffer a fractured skull and eventually die.
At the trial court, the prosecution did not contend that the appellant intended to kill his son. However, the trial judge directed the jury to find the appellant guilty of murder if they are convinced that he must have realised and appreciated that "when he threw that child, that there was a substantial risk that he would cause serious injury to it , then it would be open to you to find that he intended to cause injury to the child and you should convict him of murder." The appellant was convicted of murder, and he appealed to the Court of Appeal, then to the House of Lords.
Whether or not the direction given to the jury by the trial judge was a misdirection
Arguments of the Appellant:
Arguments of the Crown:
There was a misdirection
Lord Styne commented on the direction given to the jury in R v. Nedrick and noted that "the effect of the critical direction is that a result foreseen as virtually certain is an intended result ."His lordship further held that
It follows that judge should not have departed from the Nedrick direction. By using the phrase "substantial risk" the judge blurred the line between intention and recklessness, and hence between murder and manslaughter.
...Moreover, over a period of twelve years since Nedrick the test of foresight of virtual certainty has apparently caused no practical difficulties
... In my view Lord Lane's judgment in Nedrick provided valuable assistance to trial judges. The model direction is by now a tried-and-tested formula. Trial judges ought to continue to use it.
The virtual certainty test is used to assess indirect or oblique intent. If a person does an act with no direct intention to bring about a particular outcome, he would be held to have intended to bring about the outcome if his acts were such that he should have known that they are virtually certain to bring about the outcome.