Are you being investigated for, or have you been charged with, common assault?
The two types of Common Assault
Common assault is the lowest form of assault there is in law. It can be committed in one of two ways.
Firstly, by making any degree of physical contact with another against their will – usually known as ‘Common Assault by beating’ (though it is sometimes referred to as ‘Battery’). The offence is committed when a person intentionally and/or recklessly applies unlawful force to another.
Secondly, it can be committed without even touching another whereby it involves ‘any act by which a person intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate unlawful violence.’
Therefore, the offence can be committed without one person even touching another, providing that the complainant ‘apprehends’ (or fears) they may be subjected to immediate unlawful violence. The person causing the fear must have intended to do so, or have been reckless as to whether such apprehension or fear would be caused.
Defending an allegation of Common Assault Allegation?
- Released under investigation:
You may have already been interviewed in relation to an allegation of common assault and be under investigation by the police – see article on ‘being released under investigation.’
If this is the case then there maybe enquiries that should be made in order for evidence to be gathered which can support your innocence or which otherwise undermine the case against you. You should not simply rely on the police to make those necessary enquiries on your behalf. It is likely that their main focus will be on gathering evidence which will assist in bringing a case against you, and not in looking to assist you in establishing that you are innocent.
Equally, there may be no enquiries to be made at all and you may simply need some advice on the likely outcomes and matters of a procedural or evidential nature, or even on the powers of the court when it comes to sentencing.
- Charged with common assault:
You may have already been charged with common assault and are facing criminal prosecution for the offence. If this is the case, there are likely to be all sorts of questions that you need answers to and advice upon. For those not experienced in being involved in the criminal justice system, procedural and evidential matters are all likely to feature as matters which you require advice on. Additional matters will include eligibility for legal aid, the cost of privately funded representation if you are not eligible for legal aid, and of course the powers of the court in the event of a conviction.
Regardless of your experience of the courts, you should ensure that you receive competent and professional advice from an expert with an understanding of the case against you, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether plead guilty or not guilty.
What injuries are required for Common Assault?
A person can find themselves arrested or being prosecuted for common assault when there is no injury at all, or when the injury is very minor or superficial.
What are the available defences to a charge of Common Assault?
- You may have acted in lawful self-defence. In law, you are entitled to defend yourself. The concept of self-defence can be complex to understand and apply and very much depends on the circumstances of each individual case. You should discuss your case with one of our lawyers.
- The complainant and/or witneses(es) may be mistaken about your involvement, ‘mistaken identity.’
- You may simply not have been responsible for the offence at all, i.e., you were ‘elsewhere at the time.’ This is known as an ‘alibi’ defence. You may have witnesses who need to be contacted to confirm you were elsewhere at the time.
What are the sentencing powers of the courts for Common Assault?
Common Assault is what is known as a ‘summary only’ offence meaning that it will almost always only be heard in the Magistrates” Court.
Upon conviction, the maximum sentence that can be imposed is six months’ imprisonment, though other lesser sentences are available such as unpaid work in the community, or financial penalties.
An offence of common assault can be regarded more serious if it is alleged that it was racially or religiously aggravated.
A Racially/Religiously Aggravated Common Assault is an offence under the Crime and Disorder Act 1988. This offence can be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court depending on the seriousness of the offence. In the Crown Court, the sentencing Judge can impose sentences beyond the six months imprisonment limit which is available to Magistrates for the basic offence.
What factors does the court take in to account when sentencing?
The court will arrive at the appropriate sentence by looking at:
- The degree of harm caused to the victim, and
- The level of culpability (responsibility/blame) attributed to the Defendant
The court will then be able to assess what category the offence falls in to for the purpose of sentencing. The sentencing guidelines will then be considered to assist in determining what the appropriate sentence should be, as will the aggravating and mitigating factors for each individual offence and offender. Important considerations will include though not restricted to:
- Does the offender have previous convictions
- Responses to previous sentences and Court Orders
- The location of the offence
- Timing of the offence
- The ongoing impact upon the victim
- Was the commission of offence carried out under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
- Was a weapon used?
- Is there any genuine remorse?
- Was there a guilty plea?
This is not an exhaustive list, and other factors may also be relevant, which relate to the specific circumstances of and offence or offender.
If you have any questions, please contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.