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What are the elements of common assault in Criminal Law?

Assault is conduct on behalf of the defendant that intentionally or recklessly causes the victim to apprehend immidiate and unlawful personal violenceR v Venna [1975] 3 All ER 788

You must have all the elements of assault ( in bold above). If any of them fail, assault is not made out.

1. "Conduct":  No actual violence is required. Conduct that simply causes apprehension personal violence is enough.  e.g. repeated silent telephone calls have been ruled to be sufficient. (R v Ireland; R v Burstow [1997] 4 All ER 225 ) The conduct element does not require physical action and words or, as in R v Ireland, silence alone are sufficient. What particulair form the words take (whether they are spoken to the victim or written)  is of no relevance as long as they cause the apprehension of unlawful violence. (Schiemann LJ in R v Constanza [1997] 2 Cr App Rep 492

2. "Intentionally or recklessly"

"Intentionally"  in the context of assault means deliberately. "Recklessly" can be distilled down to the defendant seeing the possibility of the risk and taking that risk anyway.   In the context of assault, the defendant  must foresse the possibility (even if very slight) that the victim may apprehend unlawful personal violence and take that risk.  

Remember, that the prosecution must prove that the defendant  saw the risk and took it anyway because recklessness is subjective (i.e. it is not enough  to prove  that the jury foresaw the risk). R v Cunningham [1957] 2 All ER 412 and R v G and another [2003] UKHL 50, 

3. “Apprehend” is expect but not necessarily fear

"Apprehension" is not synonymous with “fear” as it is possible to apprehend personal violence without fearing it and vice versa. Though they seem very close, R v Venna focuses on “apprehension” and not “fear”.

4."Immidiate" personal violence 

This has been interpreted broadly. The immediacy requirement was satisfied in R v Ireland (above)  by conduct that caused the victim to apprehend violence "within a minute or two"  (see R v Ireland above).

5. Threat must be unlawful

The threat will not be unlawful if made in self-defence or with consent of the victim.

Alexander K. GCSE Law tutor, A Level Law tutor, IB Russian tutor, GCS...

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