R v Moloney [1985] 1 AC 905

Murder – Mens Rea – Intention – Foresight


The defendant and his stepfather who had a friendly and loving relationship were engaged in a drunken competition to see which of them could load a shotgun faster than the other.  Moloney won, and was then challenged by his stepfather to fire the gun.  He did, killing his stepfather instantly.  Moloney was charged with murder and convicted.  He appealed and the Court of Appeal allowed appeal to the House of Lords.


Did the mens rea of murder require direct intent to kill or cause serious bodily harm, or was foresight of a serious likelihood of harm occurring sufficient?  Whether the jury was to infer intent if they were satisfied that the accused foresaw that death or serious injury was a natural consequence of his act?


The House of Lords allowed Moloney’s appeal.  He had not intended to kill his stepfather.  Knowledge of foresight of the consequences of an action were to be considered at best material from which a crime of intent may be inferred.  Where the defendant’s purpose was other than to cause serious bodily harm or death to another then the jury may infer intent if the consequence of the defendant’s act was a natural consequence, and the defendant foresaw that this was a natural consequence of his act.  The jury in such a circumstance should be directed that they may infer intent, but were not bound to infer intent, if both these circumstances are satisfied.  Foresight of the natural consequences of an act is no more than evidence of the existence of intent.