The case of Woolmington v DPP clarified several uncertainties in regards to this area of the law. Here, Reginald Woolmington’s wife left him to live with her mother three months after their marriage. After sometime, Woolmington sawed off the barrel of a double barrel shotgun, cycled to the house his wife was living and shot her. She died and Woolmington claimed the incident was an accident and he only wanted to scare her by convincing her that he was going to kill himself. However, he was charged with murder. The jury was directed by the judge to acquit the defendant if there was reasonable doubt in their mine and they were directed to convict if they had no doubt if the defendant had killed intentionally. The judge directed the jury correctly but however, the jury was unable to agree on it.
However, in the trial, the jury was wrongly directed when it was told that in a case where murder has already been proven, any defenses, excuses or possible justification the defendant wishes to rely on must be proven by none other than the defendant itself, hence, placing the burden of prove on the defendant. Hence, there was a common presumption that malice was aforethought unless the defendant could place evidence to differ. Justice Swift quoted that this was the “law of this country for all time since we had law”. He added that a person, who had been deemed for murder, has the burden of proof to show that what occurred was less than murder. Hence, Woolmington was found to be guilty for murder.
Even though Woolmington’s attempt to appeal on the basis that the jury was misdirected by the judge failed, the Attorney General allowed the case to be heard by the HOL as it was in regards to a point of law which had exceptional public importance. Subsequently, the conviction was quashed by the HOL. The HOL decision was the prosecution had the duty to prove two things; a) the act was a voluntary act by the accused
b) defendant had malice aforethought
Hence, the defendant had a duty only to explain or provide evidence in the noted incident. Ergo, if the jury are satisfied with the explanation given or are still in doubt after reviewing all the evidence whether it was unintentional or not, the defendant must be acquitted even if his explanation falls short. This was given by the case Rex v Abramovitch. Same was said in Rex v Davies where it said that it is not the burden of the defendant to satisfy the jury. All in all, the HOL stated that it is up to the prosecution to prove the defendant killed with malice aforethought and not the defendant to prove he had justification behind the murder.
In order to clearly understand the stand of the HOL in the Woolmington case, it is necessary to view the law before it. The development of such started in 18th century, where a renown judge, Sir Michael Foster of the Foster’s Crown Law stated in an article “Introduction to the Discourse of Homocide” that; “In every charge of murder, the fact of killing being first proved, all the circumstances of accident, necessity, or infirmity are to be satisfactorily proved by the prisoner, unless they arise out of the evidence produced against him; for the law presumeth the fact to have been founded in malice, until the contrary appeareth….”
The definition above was quoted very similarly in the judgment given by the Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of Woolmington. The HOL were bemused that the passage was quoted in most textbooks such as Russell on Crimes. Even the Halsbury’s Law of England quoted on the 1st May 1933 the above with...