R v Woollin [1999] 1 AC 82

Key point

  • The intention for murder requires foresight of virtual certainty, not merely substantial risk, of death or serious harm


  • Woollin killed his 3 month old son after throwing him onto a hard surface in rage
  • The judge directed the jury that if they were satisfied that the appellant had realised there was a substantial risk that the child would suffer serious harm, they could convict him of murder

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal allowed; the conviction for murder was quashed and replaced with manslaughter
  • There had been a misdirection by the judge

Lord Steyn

  • ‘By using the phrase “substantial risk” the judge blurred the line between intention and recklessness, and hence between murder and manslaughter. The misdirection enlarged the scope of the mental element required for murder.’
  • Instead, pursuant to R v Nedrick [1986] Crim. L.R. 742, the jury should be directed to consider whether the defendant had foresight that death or serious injury would be ‘virtual certain’ to result from his voluntary act