Assault charges can be difficult for the layman to fully understand as many different abusive offences are covered in the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The different factors of each assault charge can bewilder the accused and they may not fully realise exactly what they are being charged with.
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Section 47 Assault of the Offences against the Person Act is Actual Bodily Harm (ABH). Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) Section 47 offences are more serious than common assault charges but less severe than Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) offences. Understanding the difference between the various sections which compile the statute, Offences against the Person Act 1861 is paramount for anyone accused of one of the offences covered.
The terms “assault” and “battery” are treated informally as synonyms in modern Britain, however they are actually two separate offences in British law. A lone assault crime refers to the victim’s fear of unlawful physical violence and does not require unlawful physical contact.
This is demonstrated in the Smith v Chief Constable of Woking case, in which the offender entered the victim’s private garden and peered in her window. This caused the victim to fear that the offender would break an entry which amounted to an assault charge.
Common Assault/Battery Offences
A battery offence is the unlawful physical contact between the offender and victim through intention or recklessness. A battery offence can refer to direct force like slaps and scratches but can also refer to indirect unlawful application of force. In the case DPP v K the defendant put acid into a hand dryer which was then used by the victim who was sprayed by acid. Although there was no direct contact present, there was still reckless harm inflicted upon the victim.
Actual Bodily Harm
ABH refers to any unlawful physical contact that causes actual bodily harm to the victim, these needn’t be long-term or permanent however, trivial and minor physical injuries would be considered a common assault offence rather than ABH. Examples of injuries to the victim which may be included in a section 47 assault include:
- Extensive or multiple bruising
- Cuts and slashes that are not superficial but less severe than wounding
- Temporary loss of consciousness or sensory functions
- Minor bone fractures
- Tooth-loss or chipping
In order to be charged with actual bodily harm there must be presence of Actus Reus and Mens Rea.
The Actus Reus (the guilty act) of the crime is the physical act of the crime. This can be as a result of a voluntary act or omission.
An omission is the failure to act which results in physical, unlawful harm. In the R v Pitwood case an omission was committed when the defendant failed to lower the safety barrier on a train track which resulted in a fatal collision.
The Mens Rea (the guilty mind) of the offence is the intention or recklessness of the defendant’s actions.
Mens Rea is present in cases where the defendant intended to apply unlawful physical contact to the victim. Direct intention is when the offender clearly foresees the consequence of his actions and has every desire to cause harm.
Oblique intention refers to an offender’s “virtual certainty” of the results of their actions. Intention is defined in the R v Mohan case where motive is irrelevant, the mere choice to bring about the consequence is considered as intent.
The guilty mind can also be present through recklessness. Recklessness is illustrated in cases such as R v Wollin; where the consequence is foreseeable to the reasonable man, but the accused didn’t have intention to harm the victim.
Understanding Offences against the Person
If you are being accused of any assault offences, including section 47 assault, you should seek immediate legal advice to gain a thorough understanding of exactly what you’re being accused of. Legal advice is available from Gray & Co criminal defence solicitors who can offer legal advice and guidance which is personal to your individual case.