DPP v Smith [1961] AC 290

Whether mens rea for murder is subjective or objective

Facts

Jim Smith (S) was ordered by a police constable to stop his car which contained stolen goods, however S accelerated instead. The police constable jumped onto the car, but fell off and was killed by another oncoming car after S violently swerved the car. S was convicted of murder and appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Issue

The issue in question was whether the mens rea of intent for murder is a subjective or an objective test. S claimed that he could not be convicted of murder because he did not have the requisite mens rea of intention to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. He claimed that the mens rea for murder is subjective, and the trial judge had misdirected the jury in stating that the mens rea test for murder was whether a reasonable man would have contemplated that grievous bodily harm was a likely result from J’s actions.

Held

The Court of Criminal Appeal, finding the test to be subjective and the trial judge to have misdirected the jury, allowed the appeal and substituted a verdict of manslaughter. The case was then appealed by the prosecution to the House of Lords. The House of Lords held that an objective test was applicable to the mens rea of intent for murder, therefore there was no misdirection and the murder conviction was to be reinstated. Where the accused is capable of forming an intent in that he is not insane nor suffering from diminished responsibility, any actual intention is immaterial, and the mens rea test for a conviction of murder is what in all the circumstances the ordinary reasonable man would have contemplated to be the natural and probable result of the grievous bodily harm done.