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Why R v Matthews and Alleyne is important

In R v Matthews and Alleyne, the Court of Appeal endorsed the second of the two readings of R v Woollin. The Court concluded that the ratio of Woollin is that proof a defendant foresaw it was virtually certain they would cause death or gbh is merely evidence from which the jury can infer that the defendant intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm to the victim. Foresight of a virtual certainty does not alone constitute indirect intention for murder.


The defendants took the victim and threw him into a river in the middle of flooding, where he subsequently drowned. The defendants knew that the defendant was unable to swim when they threw him into the river.

Conviction at Issue

The defendants were charged with murder. They argued that they did not intend to kill the victim, despite knowing that he was unable to swim.

The trial judge directed the jury that they should convict the defendants of murder if the defendant appreciated it was a virtual certainty that the victim would die by drowning. The defendant appealed, arguing this was a misdirection.

Issue facing the Court

Whether the trial judge erred when directing the jury. The Court had to decide whether the judge’s direction, that the requisite intention for murder exists if it was shown that the defendant appreciated that the victim dying was a ‘virtual certainty’, was correct.


The Court of Appeal found that the defendant’s murder conviction was safe, albeit the trial judge’s direction was incorrect.

The court decided that the trial judge had erred in his interpretation of R v Woollin. Instead, the correct direction was that it was open to the jury to find that the defendant’s foresight that the victim would drown as a virtually certain consequence of their actions constituted an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

The court of Appeal categorised the R v Woollin direction as a rule of evidence which entitles the jury to find the requisite intention for murder if the defendant appreciated that the subsequent death was a virtually certain consequence of his actions. It is not a rule of law which requires the jury to infer intent from virtual certainty. Therefore, the Judge must make clear that a jury is not required to make this finding.

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