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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: Battery Liability

Study Note | A Level

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Battery consists of an act where the defendant intentionally or recklessly applies unlawful physical force to another person.

Therefore the difference between assault and battery, is that assault is committed when the victim believes that he is likely to be subjected to some form of harm and a battery does not take place until force is applied.

Actus reus

The law takes the view that a person has the right to be protected from molestation. The jurist William Blackstone, wrote in his Commentaries on the Common Law, in the 1760s: .. the law cannot draw the line between different degrees of violence and therefore prohibits the first and lowest stage of it - every man's person being sacred and no other having a right to meddle with it in the slightest manner....

  • Physical force

    There is a low threshold for physical force required for battery.

    Collins v Wilcock (1984)

    Defendant, a police officer, had taken hold of the victim’s arm in order to detain her but with no intention to arrest her.

    Lord Goff: ..The fundamental principle, plain and incontestable is that every person’s body is inviolate. It has long been established that any touching of another person, however slight, may amount to a battery... .

    Thomas (1985)

    Defendant, a school caretaker, was charged with indecent assault after taking hold of a 12 yr old girl’s skirt. There was no evidence of the act being indecent but the court said if you touch someone’s clothing, while he or she is wearing them, that is equivalent to touching him or her.

  • Consent

    Consent can make touching lawful. There is an implied consent in everyday activities, such as tapping someone on the shoulder to bring their attention or in normal sporting activities.

    Collins v Wilcock (1984)

    Lord Goff: .. Consent is a defence to battery; and most of the physical contacts of ordinary life are not actionable because they are impliedly consented to by all who move in society and so expose themselves to the risk of bodily contact… it is more common nowadays to treat…everyday jostling…as falling within a general exception embracing all physical contact which is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life... .

  • Continuing acts

    Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (MPC) (1969)

    Defendant accidently stopped his car on a policeman’s foot. When the policeman asked him to remove the car from his foot, he replied Fuck off, you can wait! Defendant was found guilty of causing injury to the policeman as leaving the car on the foot was seen as a continuing act.

    On appeal the court stated: .. it matters not in our judgment, whether the battery is inflicted directly by the body of the offender or through the medium of some weapon or instrument controlled by the action of the offender....

  • Indirect acts

    Martin (1881)

    Defendant placed an iron bar across the exit door in a theatre, turned off the lights and shouted fire. In the subsequent chaos two people were injured. His conduct was found to be battery.

    Haystead (2000)

    Defendant punched his girlfriend, causing her to drop her baby onto the floor. Defendant was guilty of battery on the baby.

    Defendant would also have been guilty under the principle of transferred malice.

  • Omissions

    Unlike assault, in limited circumstances, where there is a duty to act, battery may be committed through an omission. For example, where the defendant has created a dangerous situation and failed to act.

    Santana Bermudez (2004)

    Defendant injured the victim, police officer, by allowing her to search him, knowing he had hypodermic needles in his pockets. The court found his failure to warn her about the danger was sufficient actus reus for battery.

Mens rea

The mens rea for battery to be satisfied if there is intention to apply physical force or recklessness that force will be applied.

Venna (1976)

Defendant was arrested for a public order offence. He struggled violently with the arresting officer and was judged to be reckless as to whether he caused harm to the officer.

We see no reason in logic or in law why a person who recklessly applies physical force to the person of another should be outside the law of criminal assault.

Mens rea was affirmed as: .. proof that the defendant intentionally or recklessly applied force to the person of another....

Latimer (1886)

Defendant aimed to a attack a men with a belt in a pub. The belt bounced off the man and struck the victim. Defendant was guilty of battery although he had not meant to hit the victim.

Defendant had sufficient mens rea to hit the man with his belt and this was transferred to the victim. The act on the victim satisfied the actus reus of battery.

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