R v Moloney [1985] AC 905, [1985] 1 All ER 1025

Key point

  • Clarified that inferring intention from foresight of probable consequence is a rule of evidence


  • Moloney and his stepfather, who he was close to, engaged in a shooting contest while drunk to see who could draw their gun quicker
  • Moloney shot and killed his stepfather and was convicted of murder

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal allowed; the conviction of murder is quashed and replaced with manslaughter
  • Moloney did not have the intent to kill or seriously injury his stepfather

Lord Bridge

Meaning of intention

  • When a crime of specific intent was under consideration ‘the probability of the consequences taken to have been foreseen must be little short of overwhelming before it will suffice to establish the necessary intent’
  • Intention is ‘quite distinct from motive or desire’: a man who has a layover in Manchester when he is flying to London clearly intends to travel to Manchester although it is the last place he wants to be
  • Foresight of a certain degree of probability of the consequence equates intention is not a rule of substantive law but a law of evidence

Proper direction to jury

  • The ‘golden rule’ is that ‘when directing the jury on the mental element necessary in a crime of specific intent, the judge should avoid any elaboration or paraphrase of what is meant by intent’ unless ‘strictly necessary to avoid some misunderstanding’
  • ‘Even where the death results indirectly from the act of the accused, I believe the cases that will call for a direction by reference to foresight of consequences will be of extremely rare occurrence