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Why R v Hyam is important

In R v Hyam, the House of Lords were presented with the opportunity to confirm that an intention to cause grievous bodily harm was sufficient as the mens rea for murder. However, the judgement of the Law Lords was ambiguous and left this area of the law unclear.

Facts

Hyam had been in a relationship with a Mr Jones. After this relationship ended, Mr Jones began a relationship with another woman, Mrs Booth. Hyam found out about the new relationship and in response poured petrol through Mrs Booth’s letter box and ignited a fire. The fire killed two of Mrs Booth’s daughters.

Conviction at Issue

Hyam was charged with murder, and her appeal made its was to the House of Lords.

The judge’s direction to the jury state that the mens rea for murder would be established if the defendant was aware that it was highly probable that the fire would cause death or serious bodily harm.

Hyam argued that knowing that death or serious bodily harm was highly probable does not establish the requisite intention for murder.

Issue facing the Court

The House of Lords was asked whether an intention to cause grievous bodily harm was sufficient as the mens rea for murder.

Outcome

By a majority of 3:2, the defendant’s appeal was dismissed and her conviction for murder was upheld. Their Lordships gave different reasons, leaving the law of intention as regards murder ambiguous.

Lords Diplock and Kilbrandon stated that an intent to cause GBH was insufficient as the mens rea for murder. Instead, they argued, the defendant should have an intention to cause grievous bodily harm whilst also knowing that they were threatening the victim’s life by their conduct. They concluded that Hyam had met this requirement in this case.

Lord Cross upheld the defendant’s conviction for murder. However, he refused to break the tie and instead assumed that an intention to cause grievous bodily harm did constitute the mens rea for murder.

Lords Hailsham and Dilhorne disagreed with this interpretation as to whether an intention to cause grievous bodily harm was sufficient as the mens rea for murder. They dissented, concluding that Hyam did not have the requisite intent to kill.

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