Collins v Wilcock – Case Summary

Collins v Wilcock

High Court

Citations: [1984] 1 WLR 1172; [1984] 3 All ER 374; (1984) 79 Cr App R 229; [1984] Crim LR 481; (1984) 81 LSG 2140; (1984) 128 SJ 660; [1984] CLY 506.


The defendant was on the street with her friend. Both were known by the police to be prostitutes. An officer approached the two, suspecting that they were soliciting. The friend agreed to be questioned, but the defendant walked away. The police officer took hold of her arm to stop her from leaving, at which point the defendant swore and scratched at the officer. The defendant was convicted of assaulting a police officer in the course of duty. The defendant argued that she was not guilty of this offence, because the officer had not been acting in the lawful course of her duties.

  1. Was the officer acting in the lawful course of her duty?

The Court held for the defendant and quashed the conviction. The officer had not been acting in the lawful exercise of her duty as they had no legal power to touch the defendant in these circumstances. In fact, the officer had committed a battery against the defendant.

This Case is Authority For…

Goff LJ set out the general definition for assault and battery:

‘An assault is an act which causes another person to apprehend the infliction of immediate, unlawful, force on his person; a battery is the actual infliction of unlawful force on another person.’

People are taken to implicitly consent to contact which is a reasonable, generally accepted and expected part of normal life. Goff LJ gave the examples of jostling through a crowd or touching a person to get their attention. Restraint is not normally acceptable, however, and will constitute battery.

A police officer is not entitled to detain or restrain a person unless they are using one of their common law or statutory powers of arrest (or stop and search).