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Criminal Justice Act 1988

There are three basic types of assault offence set out in law – common assault, actual bodily harm (ABH) and wounding / grievous bodily harm (GBH). They are primarily defined by the harm caused to the victim – with common assault at the lower end of harm and GBH at the upper end. They cover everything from threatening words to a severe physical attack that leaves the victim permanently disabled.

A person is guilty of common assault if they either inflict violence on another person – however slight this might be – or make that person think they are about to be attacked.

They do not have to be physically violent – for example, threatening words or a raised fist could lead the victim to believe they are going to be attacked – and that is enough for the crime to have been committed. Other acts like spitting at someone may also classed as common assault.

The offence covers both intentional and reckless acts.  For example, the offender may not have intended to cause the victim to think an attack was imminent but if they behaved in way that was likely to make the victim think they were about to be attacked, and they didn’t care what effect that behaviour would have, the offender is guilty of the offence.

If violence is used in a common assault, it is called a “battery” and the perpetrator would be charged with “assault by beating”. This does not however, mean that the victim was actually ‘beaten up’ or even hit or kicked – it could be that they were pushed, grabbed or spat at. The victim may not therefore have suffered any physical injury, and if any injury was caused, it would need to be quite minor to fall under common assault.

Image by Samuele Errico Piccarini

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