Being faced with the prospect of criminal charges for violence can be a very daunting time for people. Not only may you have been dealing with police officers, but the prospect of having to engage a lawyer and become involved in criminal trial can result in no small degree of stress. The law and the procedures in this area can be complicated and difficult to understand.
Here we provide an overview of the law related to crimes involving violence: a break-down of what each offence means under the legislation and what must be proven in each case.
What are Violent Crimes?
In England & Wales, the vast majority of violent offences are set down in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. These are offences that prohibit harm being caused to another person. They include:
- Assault occasioning actual bodily harm;
- Malicious wounding or infliction of grievous bodily harm; and
- Wounding and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
There are also some offences that are not contained in legislation, but have been created and developed by the courts. These common law offences are:
- Assault; and,
What are the Statutory Offences?
Each offence, whether statutory or common law, have a set of criteria that have to be satisfied before it can be proved that the accused committed the violent crime.
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
This offence, found in section 47 of the 1861 Act, is committed when an individual’s conduct causes physical or psychiatric harm on a victim. It covers a wide range of conduct, from causing someone to lose consciousness for even a small period of time to causing someone to suffer shock.
An important point to note is that it does not matter whether or not you planned for your actions to cause harm to a victim. The fact that the harm was caused is evidence enough of the commission of the offence.
Malicious wounding or infliction of grievous bodily harm
This offence is slightly different from assault in that it deals with a more severe kind of damage. The offence relates to an individual either having planned to inflict injury or did not care that a victim would suffer damage by their actions. The offence also involves two different kinds of damage:
- Wounding –It will be enough for a victim’s skin to be broken for this to constitute a wound. However this does not have to be the result of a serious injury, it need only happen from an otherwise trivial injury. Alternatively the damage suffered may be;
- Grievous Bodily Harm –This relates to harm that is particularly serious, e.g. broken limbs or lacerations. Also it is important to note that this will also cover psychiatric conditions or the passing on of a disease to the victim.
Wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent
The component parts of this offence are very similar to those of malicious wounding or infliction of grievous bodily harm’. The offence requires that a victim is either wounded or suffers grievous bodily harm which, as mentioned earlier, includes the simple breaking of the skin or a more substantial injury e.g. lacerations, significant bruising or contracting a disease.
The main difference between this offence and all other offences listed above is that this offence requires that there be intent to cause wounding or grievous bodily harm. Furthermore the offence can be established if an individual attempts to resist detention and causes the same degree of harm.
What are the Common Law offences?
The common law crimes of assault and battery are slightly easier to understand than the statutory offences, in that they share very similar criteria that will have to be proven before the crime has been committed.
People often understand assault to mean causing someone else to suffer physical harm. This is not the case. It will be enough to have committed a common law assault where a victim is wary or nervous that they will suffer harm as a result of someone else’s actions.
Intent to cause distress will be enough to attract responsibility for assault. It is also possible to commit the crime of assault even where an individual does not intend to commit the crime, but appreciates that their actions are likely to result in the victim fearing that they will suffer harm.
An individual will have committed battery where they inflict violence on a victim. It is important to understand that the threshold of harm suffered is very low - if an individual is touched without their consent, this will be enough to commit the offence of battery. Furthermore it is also possible to commit battery without actually touching someone –simply throwing an object at a victim, and causing them harm is enough to commit the offence.
If an individual intends to inflict violence on a victim, this will most obviously constitute battery. However as with assault, they will also have committed the crime if they did not intend to cause injury but were aware that this would be the likely of their actions.
Does Consent make a difference?
It is not uncommon in dealing with violent offences against the person that an individual may claim that a victim gave their consent to the harm being complained of. There are very strict rules regarding the use of consent when dealing with criminal violence.
Generally it will not be possible to claim that a victim consented to suffering either intentional or reckless injury. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, where a defence of consent may be able to be claimed:
- in the course of sexual activity;
- undergoing medical/surgical treatment; or
- taking part in certain sports.
It is important to understand that offences against the person not only includes criminal offences dealing with physical violence. It also concerns sexual offences, which is a particularly complex area of criminal law.
The law regarding offences against the person are complicated and at times, difficult to understand. The important point to bear in mind is that even the smallest action can attract criminal liability, regardless of whether there is any evidence of intent or not. It will often be enough that an individual was careless or reckless regarding the consequences of their actions, to attract the attention of the criminal law.
At Lewis Nedas, we have a team of expert criminal lawyers that are very experienced in handling allegations of complaints regarding violent offences against the person. We pride ourselves on being a team of highly capable criminal defence lawyers and barristers, able to answer any questions you have and providing expert representation both when asked to attend at a police station and in the courts. If you have any concerns regarding this area of the law, or are worried that you may be embroiled in a criminal court case, please contact us. We are here to help.