Case Briefs

Woolmington v Director of Public Prosecutions

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Woolmington   was a 21-year-old farm laborer from Castleton, Dorset. On November 22, 1934, three months after his marriage to 17-year-old Violet Kathleen Woolmington, his wife left him and went to live with her mother. On December 10 Woolmington stole a double-barreled shotgun and cartridges from his employer, sawed off the barrel, throwing it into a brook, and then bicycled over to his mother-in-law's house where he accidentally shot and killed  his wife Violet. He was arrested on January 23 the following year and charged with the willful murder of his wife Violet. Edit


  1. Was Woolmington denied his right to the presumption of innocence?


Appeal allowed, plea of not guilty - no new trial.


The House of Lords hold that the jury instruction means that the onus is on Woolmington to prove that he did not intend to kill his wife. This seems to have obviously violated the presumption of innocence principle in criminal law. The judge got this definition from Halsbury's "Laws of England", however it came from a time before there was a criminal court of appeal, and before the accused was even allowed to testify. They state that the presumption of innocence is the "golden thread" that holds the criminal law together, and that it must be given the highest accord. In order to prove the charge, the Crown must prove both that he murdered his wife, and that he intended to do it beyond a reasonable doubt.

They also say that the Court of Appeal was wrong to dismiss the appeal; the proviso can only be used when you can reasonably say that a jury would have come to the same conclusion if they had been properly directed. The House of Lords does not think that this is the case here and therefore, a new trial with a proper charge to the jury is ordered.


  • The presumption of innocence is the most important thing in criminal law and cannot be ignored.
  • The burden of proof in criminal matters is that the prosecution must prove the Defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Section 686(b)(iii) can only be used to keep a decision even though a wrongful direction of the jury has occurred if it can be said that the jury would have come to the same conclusion with the correct guidance.

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