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Nonfatal Offences against the Person
1. Assault
Under S39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, assault is a summary offence with a maximum
penalty of six months imprisonment. The elements of the offence have been developed at
common law.
The actus reus of assault
An assault is an act by D that makes V apprehend immediate, unlawful personal violence.
This can occur by deed or word. There is no need for any physical contact between
defendant and victim: the emphasis is on what the victim thought was about to happen.
Smith v Superintendent of Woking Police Station (1983) QB
The defendant stood in the garden of his victim, staring through the window at her dressed
only in her nightdress. He was guilty of assault: even though he could not attack her at that
very moment, her fear was of something sufficiently immediate and violent.
R v Ireland (1996) HL
Ireland had made a series of unwanted silent telephone calls to three women, causing them
to suffer palpitations, cold sweats, anxiety, dizziness and insomnia. He appealed against his
conviction for abh on the ground that he had not committed an assault on the women (as
required for conviction for abh). His conviction was upheld.
The mens rea of assault
The mens rea of assault is either intention or Cunningham recklessness. In other words the
defendant must either have intended to make his victim apprehend immediate, unlawful
violence, or have seen the risk of this and yet gone ahead with his act.


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