Law Unit 2 - Topic 1

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Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person

Common (technical) assault and battery

  • S.39 Criminal Justice Act 1988
  • Summary only offences, max sentence of 6 months imprisonment.

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)

  • S.47 Offences Against the Person ACt 1861
  • An either way offence, maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and/or unlimited fine.

Unlawful wounding and/or the unlawful infliction of grievous bodily harm (GBH)

  • S.20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  • An either-way offence, maximum 5 years imprisonment and/or unlimited fine.

Unlawful wounding and the unlawful causing of grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm

  • S.18 Offences Against the Person Act
  • Tribal onlly on indictment and punishable with a max sentence of life imprisonment, and/or unlimited fine. 
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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

Actus Reus of assault

  • The act which causes another person to the infliction of immediate unlawful force on his person.
  • Actus Reus = D causes V to apprehend the application of immediate unlawful force.
  • The actus rues therefore has three elements: V apprehends force (harm)                                                                                                    Immediate                                                                                                                            Unlawful
  • In the first element, we can see that there need to be no physical contact between D and V so long as D does or says something to make V think he is going to get hurt.

Words alone can amount to an assault.

Read and Coker (1853)

V was surrounded by aggressive looking servamnts, who, rolling up their sleeves said that they 'would break Vs neck if he did not leave at once'. The words were held to constitute an assault.

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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

Words can also negate (cancel out) an assault - Tuberville v Savage (1669) 

  • In an argument D places his hand on his sword & said "if it were not Assite time, I would not take such language from you". The courts said D's conduct did not amount to an assault. It was in fact Assite time so there no immediate threat.

Silence (no words) can amount to an assault - R v Ireland (1997)

  • D made a large number of silent phone calls to a number of women. V suffered psychratric injury as a result. The court ruled that this amounted to an assault.

Threatening actions for example, raising a fist at someone in a threatening way can amount to an assault - Stevens v Myers (1830)

  • D walked towards V with his fists raised but was stopped by another person before coming with striking range. The court ruled V apprehended immediate unlawful force & so was an assault.
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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

Immediacy -  The second element is that the threat must be immediate.

  • Smith v Woking (peeping Tom) D was looking through windows.
  • Ireland - V didnt know how nearby D was when making phone calls - court ruled that the threat could be imminent which satisfied the immediacy.


  • Certain threats can be lawful - in a boxing match/contact sport, surgery/medical, everyday social interaction, a PC lawfully restraining someone, self-defence.

Mens Rea of Assault - The mens rea of assault as stated in Savage (1991) is:

  • Intention (direct or oblique) to cause V to apprehend immediate unlawful force.
  • Recklessness (cunningham/subjective) as to wther V apprehends immediate unlawful force. 
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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

Actus Reus of Battery

  • 'The actual inflictionof unlawful force upon anither person'


  • V doesn't need to see or apprehend or even be aware of the fore. A battery does not require proof that the V suffered anyharm.

Savage (1992)

  • Drenching of beer was a battery.

Thomas (1985) 

  • A caretaker touched the hem of a girls skirt. D was charged with indecent assault. The court ruled that touching a person's clothing while wearing them is equivalent to touching the person.
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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

Indirect Force

  • It is possible to commit a battery by indirect force.

Haystead (2000)

  • D punched his girlfriend who was holding her baby. She dropped the baby. D was charged with a battery to the baby. The Divisional Court upheld Ds conviction even though there was nodirect application of force to the baby.

DPP v K (1990)

  • D, a school boy, left a chemistry lesson to go to the toilet & secretly took with him, an amount of acid. On hearing someone come to toilet, he panicked & poured the acid in the hand dryer. Another boy, V, used the hand dryer & was badly burned. The court ruled tat although no direct batteru had taken place, they ruled that a battery can be direct or indirect, evenif it is not aimed at any specific V, or even any victims.
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S.39 Common Assault & Battery

The force must be unlawful

  • V's consent to the force can make the force lawful. There are implied consent in thr normal activites of daily life.

Mens Rea of Battery

  • The mens rea of battery was sated in Venna (1976) as being either intention or recklessness. The P must prove that D intentionally or recklessly applied force to V.
  • Direct Intent - Aim, purpose & desire (D's) to bring about certain results.                                              - Mohan                                                                                                                                - Lord Justic James
  • Oblique Intent - Virtually certainty = D foresee the consequence.                                                          - Nedrick                                                                                                                        - Consequences of Ds action is virtually certain & D goes ahead                                      with his actions knowing that to be the case.
  • Recklessness - D knew there was a risk of the consequence occuring, but went ahead                             with his actions anyway
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S.47 Actual Bodily Harm

Actus Reus for ABH

  • The actual infliction of unlawful force upon another person which causes actual bodily harm.

Actual Bodily Harm = R v Miller (1954) defines ABH as 'any hurt or injury calculated to interfer with the health or comfort of the V'.

The CPS charging guideline indicate the following as injuries likely to constitute ABH:

  • Broken tooth/teeth
  • Temporary loss of consciousness (can be momentry)
  • Temporary loss of sensor function e.g. hearing
  • Multiple bruising
  • Broken nose
  • Minor fracture 
  • Minor cut in need of medical treatment
  • Psychiatric injury (not including mere fright or panic)
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S.47 Actual Bodily Harm

R v Chan-Fook (1994)

  • D jumped out of a window to escape the D. The court ruled that ABH should not be so trivial as to be insignificant. The court also ruled that psychological injury does not included mere emotions, such as fear, panic or distress.

DDP v Smith (2006)

  • D was convicted of s.47 ABH for cutting off Vs ponytail (hair). The court ruled that cutting off a person's hair can amount to ABH. Harm is not limitd to injurt of the skin, flesh & bones. THe fact that hair is dead tissue is irrelevant. If paint or some other unpleasant substance was but on a victims hair that could amount to ABH.

Mens Rea s.47

  • Intention or recklessness as to causing V to apprehend the infliction of immediate unlawful force.
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S.47 Actual Bodily Harm

R v Roberts (1971)

V jumped out of the car because D put his hand on her knee. D said that he did not intend or foresaw the risk of any harm and hence claimed that he lacked the mens rea for s.47. HIs argument was rejected. The mens rea for s.39 common assault/battery is sufficient; no further mens rea is required.

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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm

Actus Reus -  There are three elements of the actus reus - D must...

  • Unlawfully
  • Wound, or
  • Inflict
  • Grievous bodily harm


  • The P has to prove that Ds act is unlawful which essentially means that there has been no real consent (explict or implied) by V.


  • D must break both layers of the skin - the dermis and the epidermis. There will normally be bleeding (Eisenhower 1983- an internal rupturing of the blood vessels is not a wound.
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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm


  • D must 'inflict' the wound or inflict GBH on a V. This simply means the same as 'cause'. In R v Burstow (1997) (stalking) there was no requirement force to be directly or even indirectly applied.

R v Martin (1881) 

  • D (for a joke) theatre - switched off lights on a staircase and put an iron bar across the doorway and shouted 'fire!'. As a result, several people were injured and D was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm. Upholding his conviction, the court said that 'inflict' meant no more than 'cause' and did not require face-to-face assault.

R v Halliday (1889)

  • D frightened his wife V to such an extent that she jumped from a bedroom window to escape his threats and injured herself quite seriously: the court upheld D's conviction for s.20 offence. As in R v Roberts V's action was a foreseeable result of D's unlawful act, and he could therefore be regarded as having caused/inflicted her injuries.
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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm

According to DPP v Smith (1961) the HL emphasized that 'grievous bodily harm' should be given its ordinary and natural meaning which means no more and no less than 'really serious injury'. This was confirmed in Saunders (1985) where the CA said there was no real difference between the terms 'serous' and 'really serious'.

GBH was considered in R v Brown and Stratton (1998) where the CA stated that trial judges shouldnot attempt to give a definition to the jury.

R v Brown & Stratton (1998)

  • D1 & D2 attacked D2's father, who had undergone gender reassignment surgery. Ds caused her a broken nose, broken teeth & a cut over one eye. Ds convictions for s.20 GBH were upheld. The CA ruled that Vs injuries amounted to GBH.

R v Ireland & R v Burstow stated that really serious psychiatric injury can amount to bodily harm. 

The age or vulnerability of the V can also be taken into account when considered whether GBH has been inflicted.

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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm

R v Bollom (2003)

  • D was convicted of inflicting GBH on a 17 month old baby. The baby had suffered brusies & grazes. The court ruled that the baby's age & vulnerablilty could be taken into account when assessing the gravity of the injuries. The injuries should be viewed in their context.

D must 'inflict' GBH on a V.This simply means the same as 'cause'. this can be direct or indirect.

Mens Rea

  • D need only intend to inflict some harm or be subjectively reckless as to whether his act might result in some harm - Savage.
  • The prosecution is not required to prove that D intended or was reckless as to causing anything more than some harm i.e. no requirement to prove that D intended or was reckless as to inflicting GBH - Mowatt.
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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm

R v Savage (1992)

  • D became involved in an argument in a pub, and threw a pint over V; the glass slipped from her hand & caused cuts to Vs wrist. She was charged & convicted of a s.20 assault. The HL confirmed that for s.20 the correct mens rea simply required that the D intended of foresaw some harm. The HL also confirmed that s.47 could be committed even though the D did not intend or was reckless as to causing any harm - only requires foresight of force.

R v Mowatt (1967) 

  • D attacked V by sitting astride him,raining a series of blows on his face, and lifting his head up and throwing it down again. The Court of Appeal upheld D's conviction for inflicting grievous bodily harm, saying the offence required D to have foreseen the risk of some physical harm, which was clearly the case.

DPP v Parmenter (1992)

  • D handled his baby soon V, roughly & caused GBH.
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S.20 Grievous Bodily Harm

In the HL, it was said that to establish an offence under s.20 the prosecution must prove either that D intended or that he actually foresaw that his act would cause some harm. It is uncessary tto prove that is intended or foresaw that his act might cayse serious physical injury. Since D did not foresee any injury, Ds conviction for s.20 was reduced to s.47.

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S.18 Grievous Bodily Harm With Intent

Actus Reus - D must either:

  • wound (breaking layers of the skin) 
  • cause Gbh ((really) serious GBH)

The a.r. is the same as for s.20. Wound & GBH have the same meanings in both s.20 + s.18.

The meaning of the word 'cause' in this section is to be given its normal meaning where all the normal causation rules apply.

Mens Rea - D must:

  • Intend to cause GBH
  • Intend to resist or avoid arrest.

An intention to cause a wound will not satisfy this offence.

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