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Criminal Defence Blog

What Is Assault?



Most people would say that Assault is the physical act of causing injury to someone, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that “assault” can cover a range of actions from a raised fist to the calculated wounding or attempted murder of another person.


What’s more, physical contact is not always required to support an allegation of assault.  If you shout threats at someone, or take an action that leads them to believe that violence is imminent, then the offence of assault has been committed.  So, in the absence of a physical act of violence it is the state of mind of the victim that is relevant in these cases.


It is also important to know that silence itself can be assault e.g making silent phone calls to a person might cause that person to be afraid that they may come to immediate harm and therefore is classed as assault.


The most common charges under the Offences Against the Person Act are:


Section 39 Common Assault:  A charge of Common Assault requires no physical contact at all so can be a raised fist, a shouted threat or even a text message threatening violence.  Providing the victim believes the threat to be true and apprehends imminent violence then the charge would be proven in court.


Section 39 Common Assault by Beating:  The word “beating” or “battery” gives the misleading impression that serious violence must be present to prove the charge however in fact only a very small degree of physical contact is required.  A slap or punch, kick or any other violent act which did not result in the skin being broken, or did not require any hospital treatment or had no long term effects on the victim would probably be dealt with under Section 39.  Section 39 offences are always dealt with in the Magistrates Court and the maximum sentence is 6 months custody.


Section 47 Actual Bodily Harm (ABH):  These kind of offences are where there is hurt caused to the victim that is considered “transient and trifling”; this means that the hurt doesn’t have to be long lasting but can be anything that interferes with the health or comfort of the victim.  So, for example, an injury that results in hospital treatment or requires stitches but is not a permanent injury would likely be dealt with as ABH.  Injury can also be mental or shock. Section 47 offences can be dealt with by either Magistrates or Crown Court and the maximum sentence in these cases is 5 years in custody.


Section 20 Wounding Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH):  A charge of GBH might come from a case of vicious beating where the victim requires a lengthy hospital stay with treatment, broken bones, loss of sensory functions (e.g. blindness) or permanent disfigurement or disability.  It is used where there is serious and long lasting injury.  Wounding must include an injury that breaks the skin, e.g. knife wound. These offences can be tried in the Magistrates or Crown Court and the maximum sentence is 7 years custody.


Section 18 Wounding or GBH with Intent:  These are very serious cases where intent has to be proven, e.g. using or adapting a weapon (e.g. breaking a bottle to use to slash someone), a repeated or planned attack, prior threats or causing injury to someone’s head, e.g. by kicking them.  These matters are only tried in the Crown Court due to their seriousness if found Guilty can result in life imprisonment.


Where any of the above offences include aggravating factors, e.g. racial or religious, or use of a weapon, then the charges are more serious and the sentences can be much harsher.


If you are being charged with, or investigated for, any assault charge, get the experts on your side now by calling our specialist team for a free initial telephone consultation on 01623 600645.





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