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Hyam v. Director of Public Prosecutions

Citation. 1 All E.R. 41 (H.L. 1974).
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Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant was convicted of murder for deliberately setting fire to a house which resulted in the death of two occupants. Defendant argues he lacked the requisite intent for murder.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The fact that Defendant was not certain who, if anyone, was present in the house was irrelevant when he undertook actions that could cause grievous bodily harm.


The Defendant set fire to a house by pouring about half a gallon of gasoline through a letter box of the house and lighting it on fire. Four people were asleep in the house. Two made it out, two young girls died in the fire. The jury was instructed that the intent to do grievous bodily harm was sufficient to convict for murder. The Defendant was convicted of two counts of murder. The Defendant appealed, arguing that he did not foresee the deaths of the individuals and the crime of murder required an intent to endanger an individual’s life, not just an intent to do grievous bodily harm.


Has the intent to cause grievous bodily harm for a conviction of murder been modified by English case law to include a requirement that the Defendant must intend to endanger the victim’s life?


No, appeal Dismissed.
Malice aforethought is defined as an intent to cause the death of, or grievous bodily harm to, a person, whether such person is actually killed or not.

If for example, an individual set a bomb to go off at a certain time in a public street, he intends to injure someone. The fact that he was not certain that anyone would be around at the time the bomb went off is irrelevant, the fact is that he intended to cause some sort of injury which is sufficient.

In the case at bar, it was apparent to the court that setting fire to a dwelling during the early morning when individual were likely to be present was sufficient to demonstrate an intent to do grievous bodily harm.


The dissent argued that the standard regarding ‘grievous bodily harm’ had been modified by English case law to a certain extent to mean acts that would endanger the victim’s life. The dissent believed that the Defendant should be convicted of manslaughter because he did not intend to endanger a human life and thus could not be found guilty of murder.


The Court discussed the Defendant’s argument that the ‘grievous bodily harm standard had been modified through English case law to mean that the Defendant’s actions had to rise to a level where grievous bodily harm would endanger life. The Court found that to redefine the statute was the legislature’s responsibility and not the courts. However, based on the common law in place and statutory scheme, the court ruled that the Defendant’s conviction would stand.

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