DPP v Smith (Jim) [1961]

DPP v Smith (Jim) [1961] AC 290 revolved around the nature of mens rea for murder and whether it should be assessed through a subjective or objective test.

The defendant, Jim Smith, was confronted by a police constable after being ordered to stop his car, which was suspected of containing stolen goods. Instead of complying, Smith accelerated. The police constable attempted to stop him by jumping onto the moving car but fell off. Tragically, the constable was subsequently struck and killed by another oncoming vehicle after Smith violently swerved. Following these events, Smith was charged with murder and later appealed the conviction.

Smith argued that he lacked the requisite mens rea because he did not intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Specifically, he contended that the mens rea for murder should be subjective. The trial judge had instructed the jury using an objective test, questioning whether a reasonable person would have contemplated that grievous bodily harm was a likely result of Smith's actions.

Upon appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, it was determined that the mens rea test for murder is indeed subjective, and the trial judge had misdirected the jury. Consequently, the Court of Criminal Appeal allowed the appeal, substituting the conviction with one of manslaughter. However, the prosecution further appealed the case to the House of Lords.

The House of Lords took a different stance, ruling that an objective test should be applied to the mens rea of intent for murder. In essence, the House of Lords held that when the accused is capable of forming intent, any actual intention becomes immaterial. The crucial factor is what the ordinary reasonable person would have contemplated as the natural and probable result of the grievous bodily harm inflicted. Consequently, the murder conviction was reinstated, emphasising the adoption of an objective standard in assessing mens rea for murder under the circumstances outlined in the case.
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