Previous: Involuntary manslaughter

There can be said to be a ‘ladder’ of offences against the person, building up in seriousness. These are assault, battery, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, inflicting grievous bodily harm and wounding with intent. The fatal offences of manslaughter and murder are at the top of the ladder.


Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that offenders convicted of assault or battery may face up to six months in prison and/or face a fine. Section 39 doesn’t define the offence itself. Lord Goff defined the offence in Collins v Wilcock [1984], although the offence’s history stretches back much further than 1984. He defined it as causing the apprehension (expectation) of immediate unlawful force. Blackstone said that an assault could be in the form of a threat, or an attempted battery where the defendant misses.

The offence was extended in R v Ireland [1998], where the House of Lords suggested that it might be possible to convict a defendant of assault from silent phone calls, also recognising that psychiatric harm comes within the definition of unlawful force in Lord Goff’s definition of assault, if the victim feared the possibility of immediate personal violence. The earlier case of R v Constanza [1997] made similar points to Ireland, allowing for a conviction of assault as long as the possibility of harm was present at any time not excluding the immediate future.

The mens rea of assault was defined by Lord Ackner in R v Savage [1992] as intent or recklessness as to the apprehension of immediate unlawful force...

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