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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: Assault Liability

Revision Note | A Level

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  • assault is both a general term for a physical attack on another person and a specific offence
  • common assault is lowest level of offence against the person
  • not defined in any Act of Parliament, evolved through case law

    Criminal Justice Act 1988

    • S39 does not define common assault
    • states the maximum term of imprisonment (6 months) and is a summary offence

    Little (1992)

    • assault should be considered statutory offence, even though S39 of Criminal Justice Act 1988 only fixes penalty and tariff
  • two types of common assault: assault and battery

Actus reus

  • actus reus occurs when D causes V to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence

Causing the victim to apprehend violence

  • no need for physical contact between D and V
  • acts or words must cause V to fear that immediate force is going to be used against them

    Logdon (1976)

    • D pointed a replica gun at V as a joke, V was terrified until she was told it was a replica
    • held V had apprehended immediate physical violence and D had been reckless as to whether this would occur
  • emphasis on what V thought was about to happen

    Smith v Chief Superintendent of Woking Police Station (1983)

    • D entered a private garden and looked through V’s window, V was terrified and thought D was about to enter the room
    • held enough for assault, despite there being a locked window between D and V
  • Words alone or even silence can constitute assault

    Ireland (1997)

    • D terrorised V, with silent phone calls
    • V suffered psychiatric injury, amounted to common assault
  • consistent with law developed to deal with stalkers prior to Protection from Harrassment Act 1997
  • written words may be enough

    Constanza (1997)

    • D stalked V, sending V over 800 letters in a period of 4 months
    • held the content of the letters were assaults as V read them as threats
  • follows that content of emails or text messages or other written communication may be sufficient
  • words can also make clear an assault is not imminent

    Tuberville v Savage (1669)

    • D was insulted by comments made by C, placing his hand on his sword, stating If it were not assize-time, I would not take such language from you...
    • C tried to sue D for assault
    • held words can made clear an assault was not going to take place

Immediate violence

  • courts take a fairly liberal approach to meaning of immediate, in order to give justice to V

    Smith v Chief Superintendent of Woking Police Station (1983)

    • ... when one is in a state of terror, one is very often unable to analyse precisely what one is frightened of as likely to happen next..

    Ireland (1997)

    • immediacy found in phone calls made by D, V may fear the purpose of call was to establish whether she was at home

Unlawful violence

  • threatened violence must be unlawful
  • a policeman may threaten to handcuff or restrain if someone resists arrest, not an unlawful action

Mens rea

  • mens rea satisfied when D intends to cause V to apprehend immediate physical violence or does this recklessly

    Savage (1991)

    • mens rea is: .. intention to cause the victim to apprehend unlawful and immediate violence or reckless whether such an apprehension be caused...
  • either direct or oblique intention as to causing immediate, unlawful fear in the victim that he might suffer some harm
  • or subjective recklessness as to causing immediate, unlawful fear in the victim that he might suffer some harm

    Cunningham (1957)

    • D removed gas meter from empty house to steal money, caused a gas leak which seeped next door, V, a neighbour, became ill
    • court found D must either intend the consequence or realise that there was a risk of the consequence happening and decide to take that risk
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