Common Assault and Battery

If you are worried about being prosecuted for common assault and battery after reading this article and you would like to discuss your concerns in complete confidentiality please contact your nearest London office to arrange an appointment.

There are two offences: common assault and battery. A person commits the offence strictly known as assault or common assault if he intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence. (It is submitted that “violence” in this context means any unlawful touching, though there is some debate over whether the touching must also be hostile).

Confusingly, the terms “assault” and “common assault” often encompass the separate offence of battery, even in statutory settings such as s 40(3)(a) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Causing a person to apprehend violence can be committed by way of action or words: R v. Ireland [1997] AC 147. Of course, words can also mean that otherwise threatening actions are rendered not capable of being an assault, as in the case of Tuberville v. Savage (1669) 1 Mod 3, T. In that case, the plaintiff told the defendant (while putting his hand on his sword) that he would not stab him, because the circuit judge was visiting town for the local assizes. On that basis, the defendant was deemed to have known that he was not about to be injured, and it was held that no assault had been committed by the plaintiff (so as to justify the defendant’s allegedly pre-emptive strike).

The “immediacy” required has been the subject of some debate. The leading case, again, is R v. Ireland [1998] AC 147. The House of Lords held that the making of silent telephone calls could amount to an assault, if it caused the victim to believe that physical violence might be used against him in the immediate future. One example of “immediacy” adopted by the House in that case was that a man who said, “I will be at your door in a minute or two,” might (in the circumstances where those words amounted to a threat) be guilty of an assault.

A common assault is an assault that lacks any of the aggravating features which Parliament has deemed serious enough to deserve a higher penalty. Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that common assault, like battery, is triable only in the magistrates court in England and Wales (unless it is linked to a more serious offence which is triable in the Crown Court). Additionally, if a Defendant has been charged on an indictment with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), or racially/religiously aggravated assault, then a jury in the Crown Court may acquit the Defendant of the more serious offence, but still convict of common assault if it finds common assault has been committed.

Defendants convicted of a criminal offence can often be punished with a prison sentence.

Therefore, it is highly advisable and in your own interests that you receive legal advice from a solicitor who is an expert in criminal law if you have been charged with a criminal offence relating to Common Assault and Battery – i.e. speak to a specialist criminal solicitor.

Specialist criminal solicitors are very experienced in successfully defending criminal prosecutions because criminal law is their sole activity. They are likely to represent you better than a solicitor who does not have that experience or expertise – i.e. a general practice solicitor whose day-to-day activities might include family law and housing law as well as some criminal law.

Arrange an appointment to discuss your concerns with a specialist criminal solicitor at the earliest opportunity by contacting your nearest London office.

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