R v Woollin [1999]

R v Woollin [1999] 1 AC 82 addressed the crucial issue of intent in murder cases, specifically focusing on the degree of foresight required for the intention to kill. Woollin was accused of killing his three-month-old son by throwing him onto a hard surface in a fit of rage.

The defendant admitted to shaking and throwing his three-month-old son, causing the child's death. Initially providing various explanations for the injuries, Woollin eventually confessed to losing his temper when the baby would not stop crying. He claimed he did not intend to kill the child.

Woollin's murder conviction was initially quashed by the House of Lords, as the jury instructions required a substantial risk of death or grievous bodily harm, which was considered broader than the concept of virtual certainty. The House of Lords affirmed the test from R v Nedrick, outlining that the jury must be satisfied that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty, and the defendant appreciated this fact.

The Woollin test consists of two essential elements:
  1. Objective test: The jury must find that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty as a result of the defendant's actions.
  2. Subjective test: The defendant must appreciate that death or serious injury was virtually certain.

The jury is not entitled to find the necessary intention unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty... and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case.

The Woollin test is considered an evidential rule rather than a substantial rule of law. It instructs jurors on how they may interpret certain knowledge on the defendant's part as evidence of intention. However, critics argue that the formula lacks specific illustrations, leaving room for ambiguity and potential leniency based on unknown grounds.
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