Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Intention


Full Definition of Intention

Intention is the purpose or design with which an act is done.  It is the fore-knowledge of the act, coupled with the desire to do it, such fore-knowledge and desire being the cause of the act.  Intention may not necessarily involve expectation.  Intention is the foresight of a desired issue, however improbable, and not eh foresight of an undesired issue, however probable.  If X fires a rifle in the direction of a man at a great distance, X might very well know that chances of hitting him are desires to do so. In the same way, expectation also does not amount to intention.  A doctor operating on a patient might expect that the operation might result in the death of the patient; yet he does not intend the death of the patient.  He intends, in fact, to cure the patient by such operation.  Very often, one may intend a thing, not for its own sake, but as a means to an end.

A very important ingredient of criminal liability is that the wrongdoer must have a guilty mind.  The term guilty mind is very general, but in jurisprudence, it is understood in a technical sense.  The guilty mind that constitutes a condition of liability might be intention, negligence or sometimes even knowledge, which almost always indicates intention; but this does not mean that there should be any general kind of guilty which does not come under intention, negligence or knowledge.

The definitions of many criminal offences include terms relating to the ‘intention’ of the perpetrator. For example, to a large extent, the distinction between murder and manslaughter corresponds to the distinction between ‘intending’ and act and ‘recklessly allowing’ it to happen. Intention is not usually defined; instead, it is frequently for the jury to decide, as a matter of fact, whether the accused had the intention to carry out the act charged. In most cases, it is argued, juries need no help in understanding the term. But consider this case: a man sets fire to his restaurant in the busiest part of the day, in the hope of profiting from an insurance payout. Naturally, many people die. Does the perpetrator ‘intend’ to kill them? Clearly he would have foreseen the likelihood that his actions would lead to death or injury, and accepted that this was the likely outcome. Even though he did not purposefully kill his customers, the restauranteur purposely carried out an act that led to their deaths, in full knowledge of the likelihood of this eventuality.

In general, intention is different from ‘motivation’ or ‘desire’. However earnestly I desire the deaths of TV game show hosts, I do not necessarily ‘intend’ to kill them. While almost everyone is agreed that if I expressly set out to kill TV game show hosts, then I have ‘intention’ to kill them. This is called ‘direct intention’. However, ‘intention’ in law is not as narrow as this. At the opposite end of the ‘intention scale,’ it is argued that I intend some consequences if it is likely that my actions will have those consequences. Over the last thirty years, the meaning of intention has varied between these two extremes.

  • In Hyam v DPP (1974) the House of Lords accepted that the accused ‘intends’ the consequences of his actions if it is highly probable that those consequences will arise from the actions. However, there was no general agreement on how probable the consequences should be. Lord Hailsham used the terms inseparable consequences and morally certain consequence, while Lord Diplock was prepared to accept likely. This judgement caused some confusion because it made intention difficult to distinguish from Recklessness.
  • In R v Moloney (1985) it was held that in most cases a jury would not need to be directed as to the meaning of ‘intention’; a common-sense understanding was adequate. However, Lord Bridge issued guidelines to this effect: it could be assumed that if the accused realized that the results of his action were the natural consequences of the action, this gave additional weight to the view that the consequences were intended. The jury would still have to consider other factors along with this one. of the actions. This definition is somewhat narrower than the highly probable consequences of Hyamn, but perhaps slightly broader than Lord Hailsham’s inseparable consequences. In any event, it was not long before the inexactness of the term natural consequences gave rise to another complicated case.
  • In R v Hancock and Shankland (1986) Lord Scarman approved Lord Bridges guidelines in R v Moloney but stressed that natural consequences should be interpreted to indicate that a high likelihood of the action having the specified consequences increased the likelihood that the consequence was intended, but it was still not enough on its own. Scarman also reiterated that it is largely a matter for the jury to use common sense to decide whether an act was intended.
  • In R v Neddrick (1986) the Court of Appeal accepted the House of lords ruling in R v Moloney, and allowed that foresight of the consequences of action only allows a jury to infer intent if the consequences are virtually certain (Lane LCJ). In previous cases, the Court of Appeal had tended to follow the ruling in Hyam.
  • In R v Woolin (1997) the Court of Appeal tried to broaden the definition of intention again, but the House of lords restated that the principle in Neddrick should apply. However, the wording of the judgement uses the term find intent rather than infer intent which has let some authorities to claim that the Lords are supporting the view that a virtually certain consequence is the same as an intended consequence, where Neddrick only suggests that it increases the probability of intention.

At present the position on intention appears to be as follows: if the accused carries out action A, with consequence C, then

  • the accused intended C if he carried out A in order expressly to bring about C;
  • the accused intended C if he carried out action A, from which C was virtually certain, in which case
  • the accused need not have a motive or desire to bring about C.

Note that the meaning of ‘intention’ is also contentious in the law of tort; see, for example, Trespass to the person.

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Intention. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
September 24, 2022
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Intention. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: September 24, 2022).
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Intention. Retrieved September 24, 2022
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Definition Sources

Definitions for Intention are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 6th April, 2020 | 0 Views.