Read v Coker – Case Summary

Read v Coker

Court of Common Pleas

Citations: (1853) 13 Common Bench Reports 850; 138 ER 1437.


The claimant came to the defendant’s workshop to discuss a business dispute involving some of the goods in the workshop. He refused to leave when asked. The defendant and his employees surrounded the claimant and threatened to break his neck if he did not leave. Fearing violence, the claimant left. The claimant later returned to seize goods from the defendant’s workshop. The defendant called the police, who arrested the claimant.

The claimant later sued the defendant for assault and false imprisonment. The defendant argued that he had authority for his acts, relying on certain statutes which existed at the time. However, at the time he acted he was not aware that those statutes existed. The defendant also argued that his words were not an assault, since the wording was conditional: the claimant could avoid the threat by doing as the defendant demanded and leaving.

  1. Was the defendant’s threat to break the claimant’s neck an assault?
  2. Could the defendant rely on defences contained in a statute he was unaware of?

The Court of Common Pleas held in favour of the claimant. The threat was an assault. The defendant was entitled to rely on the statutes notwithstanding he did not knew of them.

This Case is Authority For…

A threat of violence is an assault even if the defendant is not actually about to strike or using a weapon. It does not matter that the threat is conditional on the claimant refusing to immediately acquiesce to the defendant’s demands.

If a person believes they are acting in pursuit of a legal right, it does not matter that he is not aware of the exact law or statute which justifies his actions.