R v Woollin – Case Summary

R v Woollin (Stephen Leslie)

House of Lords

Citations: [1999] 1 AC 82; [1998] 3 WLR 382; [1998] 4 All ER 103; [1999] 1 Cr App R 8; [1998] Crim LR 890.


The defendant lost his temper and threw his three month old son against a hard surface. When charged with murder, he argued that he had not intended to cause the baby any harm because it was not his purpose to do so. The jury was directed that they could find that the defendant intended to kill or seriously injure his son if he foresaw that there was a substantial risk of death or serious injury.

  1. In what circumstances does a defendant ‘intend’ to do something which is not his purpose?

The House of Lords held in favour of the defendant. The trial judge had wrongly directed the jury on the issue of intention. A defendant only intends a result if they wanted it or foresaw it as a virtually certain result – which was not the case here. The murder conviction was quashed and substituted for manslaughter.

This Case is Authority For…

There are two forms of intention. The first is where the defendant actively wants to do the illegal act or bring about the proscribed result.

The second is where the defendant foresaw that the relevant part of the actus reus was a virtually certain consequence of his actions. Merely foreseeing some risk, even if a likely risk, is not enough.


The House of Lords largely approved of the Court of Appeal decision in R v Nedrick [1986] 1 WLR 1025. However, they did not explicitly comment on some aspects of the reasoning in Nedrick.

For example, the Court of Appeal in Nedrick also stated that the defendant must correctly believe that death is a virtually certain outcome. So, if the defendant believed that the victim was certainly going to die, but in fact it was not that likely, there would be no oblique intent.

As such, issues such as these remain ambiguous in the law.