R v Cunningham [1982]

R v Cunningham [1982]

R v Cunningham [1982] AC 566 was a case heard in the House of Lords that dealt with the mens rea (mental element) required for murder in English law. The defendant attacked the victim in a pub, mistakenly believing that the victim had engaged in sexual relations with the defendant's fiancée. The attack resulted in the victim suffering a fractured skull and a subdural haemorrhage, leading to his death seven days later.

At trial, the jury convicted the defendant of murder, finding that he intended to cause really serious harm at the time of the attack. The defendant appealed, arguing that the law of murder should be limited to those who intend to kill, challenging the decision in R v Vickers [1957]. The defendant relied on the dissenting judgment of Lord Diplock in Hyam.

However, the House of Lords, in its decision, declined the opportunity to use the 1966 Practice Statement, which allows the House to depart from its previous decisions. The court held that the mens rea for murder remains the intention to kill or the intention to cause grievous bodily harm.

Lord Hailsham, in delivering the decision, expressed doubt about using the Practice Statement to change the established law. He noted the importance of stare decisis (the principle of following precedent) in criminal law, emphasising that certainty is a crucial aspect of maintaining respect for the legal system. The court maintained the traditional mens rea requirements for murder, rejecting the argument that intention to cause serious harm alone was sufficient for a murder conviction.
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