Criminal Law: Assault & Battery

Assault and Battery


Establishing Battery

The actus reus of battery is met where the defendant unlawfully inflicts force upon the victim’s person: R v Rolfe (1952) Cr App R 4.

The mens rea of battery is established where the defendant intended to inflict that force or was subjectively reckless as to whether that force was inflicted: R v Venna [1976] QB 421.


Any amount of force (including mere touching), no matter how slight, will suffice: R v Afolabi [2017] EWHC 2960. Touching a person’s clothes while they are wearing them counts as touching the victim: R v Thomas (1985) 81 Cr App R 331.

There is no need for the force to be direct. A battery can be committed using a weapon, a trap or by causing another to accidentally touch the victim: Haystead v CC of Derbyshire (2000) 164 JP 396; R v Martin (1881) 8 QB 54; DPP v K [1990] 1 All ER 331.


Establishing Assault

The actus reus of assault is causing the victim (to apprehend immediate battery (as defined above): R v Ireland [1998] AC 147.

The mens rea of assault is intention to cause apprehension of battery or subjective recklessness as to whether this is caused: R v Savage [1992] 1 AC 699.

Apprehending Immediate Battery
punch, force, attack, assault

The courts have been generous with their interpretation of ‘immediate’. If the victim believes that they might be subject to immediate violence, but does not know where the defendant is or whether they have the capacity to enact their threats, this will usually be enough: R v Constanza [1997] Crim LR 576. It is therefore enough that the victim believes that immediate battery could happen.

Gun, attack, criminal

The focus is on what the victim believes, not on what actually could have happened. For example, if the defendant threatens the victim with an unloaded gun, this could still be an assault if the victim does not know the gun is unloaded. If the victim believes the gun is unloaded, however, there will be no assault: R v Lamb [1967] 2 QB 981.

Relevant Causes

The defendant can cause an assault using words or conduct: R v Ireland [1998] AC 147. However, the defendant’s words can also negate an assault if they make clear that a battery is not going to happen: Tuberville v Savage (1669) 1 Mood Rep 3.

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

Establishing Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

To establish assault occasioning actual bodily harm (‘ABH’), the prosecution must show the actus reus and mens rea of assault or battery. They must then separately prove that the assault or battery caused ABH: Offences Against the Person Act 1861, s 47; R v Roberts [1971] EWCA Crim 4.

There is no need to prove that the defendant had any mens rea with regards to the causation of ABH.

Defining ABH

Actual bodily harm is any effect on the body which is calculated to interfere with the victim’s health or comfort: R v Miller [1954] 2 QB 282. It is a low threshold which includes:

Hair cut

Cutting the victim’s hair: DPP v Smith [2006] EWHC 94 (Admin).


A brief loss of consciousness: T v DPP [2003] Crim LR 622.

Psychiatric illness, mental illness

Psychiatric injury amounting to a recognised mental illness: R v Dhaliwal [2006] EWCA Crim 1139.


Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Quiz

Test yourself on the principles governing the non-sexual, non-fatal offences against the person.

1 / 19

What two elements must the prosecution establish to convict a defendant of an offence under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861?

2 / 19

Theresa smacks her three-year-old daughter when she misbehaves. It leaves a bruise, and Theresa is charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. She argues that she was engaging in reasonable chastisement. Is this a defence to this offence?

3 / 19

Which of the following would be classed as actual bodily harm?

4 / 19

The defendant has committed assault and battery against the victim. He argues that the victim consented. The defence can show that he honestly believed the victim consented, but it is clear that his belief was not reasonable. Does he have a defence?


5 / 19

Caleb is a prison officer who works transferring violent and unstable prisoners between institutions. During one transfer, one of the prisoners, Dale, commits battery against Caleb. At trial, Dale argues that Caleb consented to the touching since he knew the risks involved in the job and took that risk. Will Dale's consent defence succeed?


6 / 19

Patrick teaches a form of high-speed, high intensity dancing. There is a known risk that dancers may be injured during these dances. During a dance, Yula accidentally kicks Patrick in the chest, causing a rib to break. She is charged with an offence under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Can she rely on the defence of consent?


7 / 19

What two elements must the prosecution prove to show battery?

8 / 19

Psychiatric illness cannot constitute grievous bodily harm. True or false?


9 / 19

What is grievous bodily harm?

10 / 19

What two elements must the prosecution prove to show assault?

11 / 19

Which of the following three scenarios cannot constitute an assault?

12 / 19

Theresa is a primary school teacher, and smacks a student when she misbehaves. It does not leave any marks or cause any harm. Theresa is charged with battery. She argues that she was engaging in reasonable chastisement. Is this a defence to this offence?


13 / 19

Emmy stabs at Ricky with a blunt kitchen knife. The attack tears the top layer of Ricky's skin off and causes horrific bruising. Has Emmy wounded Ricky?


14 / 19

Is consent normally a defence to an offence which causes bodily harm?

15 / 19

Which of the following four scenarios are exceptions to the rule that bodily harm cannot be consented to?

16 / 19

What two elements must the prosecution establish to convict a defendant of an offence under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861?

17 / 19

Harold goes to Ricardo's house, and explains that he is showing men how to check for testicular cancer. Ricardo accepts a demonstration, and during this demonstration, Harold touches Ricardo's leg. In reality, Harold is merely trying to prank Ricardo. When Harold is charged with battery, he argues that Ricardo consented to the touching. Is Ricardo's consent a defence?


18 / 19

Celestine is a school nurse. Mark, a seventeen-year-old, is brought in with a suspected case of tonsillitis. Mark is sulking, so he refuses to let Celestine have a look inside his mouth. She threatens to 'belt him' if he does not comply. Mark knows that school staff have hit students before, so he reluctantly allows her to look in his mouth and touch the inside with tools. Celestine is charged with battery, and argues that she has the defence of consent because Mark allowed her to do what she did. Will this defence succeed?


19 / 19

When establishing the elements of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the prosecution must prove that the defendant foresaw or intended actual bodily harm. True or false?


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