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Hyam v DPP [1975] AC 55

Murder - Mens Rea – Intention – Foresight

Facts

The defendant Hyam had been in a relationship with a man before the relationship ended.  Hyam then had become jealous of her ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée Ms Booth.  She poured petrol through Booth’s letter box and then ignited it using a rolled up newspaper.  Hyam did not warn anyone of the fire but simply drove home.  The resulting fire killed two young children.  Hyam was tried for murder.  At trial she claimed that she had only intended to frighten Booth and had not intended to kill anyone as the mens rea of murder demanded.  Hyam was convicted and appealed.  The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal to the House of Lords.

Issues

Did Hyam have the requisite intention to commit murder?  Did the mens rea of intention require an intention to kill or only a foresight of a serious risk of death or serious bodily harm being caused?

Held

The appeal was refused.  A person had the requisite mens rea for murder if they knowingly committed an act which was aimed at someone and which was committed with the intention of causing death or serious injury.  Lord Hailsham also held that intention could also exist where the defendant ‘knew there was a serious risk that death or serious bodily harm will ensure from his acts and he commits those acts deliberately and without lawful excuse with the intention to expose a potential victim to that risk as the result of those acts.  It does not matter in such circumstances whether the defendant desires those consequences or not.’ Hyam v DPP [1975] AC 55 at 79.


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