Hyam v DPP [1975] AC 55


  • The defendant had burnt down the house of her rival in love, thereby killing her children.
  • The judge directed the jury to convict the defendant of murder if she knew that it was highly probable that her act would cause death or serious bodily harm
  • The jury convicted her of murder

Held (House of Lords)

  • The House upheld the conviction by a majority of three to two
  • The majority gave different reasons:
    • One adopted the “highly probable” test
    • Another thought a test of probability was sufficient
    • A third thought it was sufficient if the defendant realised there was a “serious risk.”


  • This decision was much criticised for the confusion it generated
  • The confusion was cleared in R v Woollin where it was held that the right test was whether there was foresight of a ‘virtual certainty’ that a voluntary act will cause death or serious harm