Today’s post is related to the great news publicised by West Midlands Police that officers from the Safer Travel Partnership had successfully helped convict a woman for an assault relating to her spitting at a bus driver. The woman, from Stechford, was handed an eight week custodial sentence by Birmingham Magistrates’ Court for both this offence and another theft related matter for which she was charged.
How exactly does this work though? The woman probably has not physically struck the poor bus driver but has still been found guilty of ‘assault’. Isn’t assault just that – actually striking a person?
English law splits assaults into various categories.
At the most serious we have an offence that goes beyond assault and strays closer towards murder – the crime of attempted murder. This is the charge we’d likely look at if an assault has been so severe that it’s only just fallen short of actually killing a person.
After attempted murder, we move to grievous bodily harm with intent. This offence stems from the long standing ‘Offences Against the Person Act‘ of 1861 and involves a person doing serious injury to a person and it being evident that they meant to do such injury. It is defined by S. 18 of the Act.
S. 20 of the same Act refers to grievous bodily harm but drops the reference to ‘intent’. Serious injury has still been done but the offender’s aim was not specifically to cause such an injury.
Still referring to the same Act, S. 47 gives us a further category of assault – that where actual bodily harm is caused but the associated injury is not as serious. Bruising, cuts and grazes may fall under the remit of a S. 47 assault.
The final category of assault comes from S. 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This is the level of assault for which the spitting woman will have been found guilty and does not require that physical contact even be made. The requirements are outlined in case law rather than the Act itself, the definition accepted as being where a person ‘intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force’.
The act of spitting at another person can be classified as an assault under this definition as can any other action that fulfills the criteria – from aggressively yelling at someone in the street to jumping out at someone from a cupboard whilst dressed as a ghost.
Whilst spitting at someone falls foul of the law in terms of an assault, spitting in general could be seen as a crime under the terms of the Public Order Act. I discussed recently in our Tweet & Greet whether spitting should be made a crime as some have called for in the media. My answer was that spitting could be considered ‘threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’. As such we could use a Public Order offence to deal with the culprit if circumstances necessitated.
Spitting at a bus driver, as at anyone else, is clearly unacceptable behaviour and the law gives us scope to deal with offenders and even send them to prison for doing it. I’d be happy to arrest someone for spitting if there was sufficient justification for making said arrest and I’m sure other officers would feel the same.
It’s not something that we’re prepared to tolerate and as the woman from Stechford has now found out, is an offence which could see the perpetrator detained at her majesty’s pleasure for an extended period having been found guilty of assault.