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Director of Public Prosecutor v. Smith: Case Study

Question :

Murder is an offence created by the common law of the England. It is one of the most serious form of the homicide where one person is killed by the another with an intention to cause the serious injury or the death unlawfully. Mens rea is an intention to kill a person. It is basically meant as the guilt mind. It is a mental element of an individual's intention to commit the crime. An act cannot be culpable if there is no intention to commit it. The case of DPP v. Smith is one of the important case a subjective test for intention was created.

  • What is the offence of Murder in English Law?
  • What is the aftermath of the case DPP v. Smith?
  • Whether Smith is liable for the charge of murder?
Answer :


It is basically the unlawfully killing of the human being in Queen's peace with the malice aforethought. The actus rea of the murder is the unlawful killing of the human being in Queen's peace and the men's rea of the murder is the malice aforethought which is interpreted by courts as an intention to cause grievous bodily harm or death. The offence is made by the common law. The conviction of murder carries the mandatory lie sentence. The judge cannot pass the lesser sentence in any mitigating circumstances. The three essentials of murder are-

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  • There is an Unlawful killing of the human being.
  • The killing takes place at Queen's peace which excludes killing of the alien enemies at the time of war.
  • There must be men's rea present which is malice aforethought which means an intention to cause death or grievous bodily harm.

(Illustration 1: Ipleaders, 2020)


The case of Director of Public Prosecutor v. Smith mainly envisages that the man can be guilty of the murder even though he/ she did not intend to cause grievous bodily hurt or death. Provided that the death or the grievous bodily harm was the probable and the natural consequences of the act by the objective assessment. This case has established the subjective test for the intention rather than an objective test.

Facts of the case

Case Revision
(Illustration 2: Case Revision, 2020)

The defendant was driving off the car with the stolen goods. The police officer tried to stop it from driving off with the stolen goods. He refused to stop and in order to stop him, he jumped on the bonnet of the car. The defendant speed up the car at approx hundred yards and made zig zag movements of the car so that the police officer gets off the car. However as the result, the police officer was thrown in the path and was killed by the on coming car. Hence, the defendant was charged with the capital murder.

Legal issues raised

  • Did Smith have committed the murder of the police officer?
  • Whether there was men's rea in the present case?
  • Whether the men's rea is a subject test or objective test for the murder?


Trial court directed the jury-

The court was of the opinion to Jury that if it is satisfied that a reasonable man in the similar circumstance as the defendant would have foreseen that a victim could suffer grievous bodily harm or death as the probable consequence of the conduct of defendant then the jury can presume that defendant have possessed sufficient mens rea for the murder.

The Jury held that the defendant is convicted for the charge of murder.

Court of Criminal Appeal

The defendant was convicted with the charge of murder by the Trial court, hence an appeal was filed. The Court of Criminal Appeal reversed its conviction and reached the verdict of the manslaughter. It was held that the Trial court have erred in application og an objective test in determining the intention of the accused. Lord Byrne was of the opinion that the presumption of the intention means that as the man is able to foresee as to what are its natural consequences of the act so it is reasonable to infer that the defendant did foresee it and intended it. However, it is an inference which is drawn and on facts in certain situation must be inevitably drawn. Yet if on the facts of the particular case, a correct inference is there then it must be not be drawn. Hence, a subjective test to the intention was taken into consideration by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

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House of Lords

Again an appeal was filed in House of Lords and the court reversed the judgement of Court of Criminal appeal and reinstated the conviction of defendant for the capital murder. Lord Viscount Kilmuir was of the view that the defendant is accountable for its actions and it does not matter as to what the accused have contemplated as probable result. The defendant is a man capable of forming the intention and is not insane. He is not suffering from diminished responsibility. If an assumption is taken that the accused is accountable for its actions then the sole question arises as to whether the voluntary and unlawful act was of such a kind that the grievous bodily harm was natural and probable result. The test available for this is what the reasonable or ordinary man would contemplate as the probable and natural result in all circumstances of case. Hence the House of Lord convicted Smith for the charge of capital murder.

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Aftermath of the judgement

The judgement of Director of Public Prosecutor v. Smith was criticised as the judges failed to consider the state of mind of defendant. As a result, section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967 was enacted in order to reverse the decision of this case. The presumption was abolished which stated that the person foresees or intends a result simply because the result is a probable and natural consequence of the conduct. Now the jury have to decide the intention by taking into consideration the evidence, drawing of any inference. So the test is therefore a subjective one.

Students also like: Taylor v. Caldwell (1863)

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