Posts Tagged 'Offences Against the Person Act 1861'

As ugly as I seem…

What sort of injuries might the police classify under the term ‘serious violence’? You may be surprised but the above scratch would likely be recorded as grievous bodily harm. (Image from AlishaV)

One of my main aims behind writing this here blog is to help explain the law and police customs on behalf of those who may hear stories about the justice system in the news and think ‘that can never be right’.

Today there’s one such story in the papers concerning how community resolutions have apparently been used inappropriately to deal with reports of ‘serious violence’.

The implication of the headline is that offenders responsible for some of the most serious crimes we deal with are being let off with a slap on the wrist and victims are losing out as a result.

From the face of it, ‘that can never be right’ would be a very sensible reaction.

Serious violence demands a little more than an apology, surely suspects should be put before the wig-wearers at Crown Court and sent for a lengthy prison sentence?

It’s at this point it’s important to consider exactly how ‘serious violence’ is being defined so we can understand what offences within the category often actually look like.

Offences that have been considered ‘serious’ in reference to this story include causing actual bodily harm (ABH) and wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent.

When it comes to the police decision as to which level of assault we’re going to record (or ‘crime’ in police speak), suffering pain is the benchmark for ‘actual bodily harm’.

This means were you to playfully punch a colleague on the arm and your colleague felt some pain, even in passing, we’d be obliged to record an offence of ABH were your colleague to make a complaint to ourselves.

Why? According to our ‘criming’ standards (by which I mean the exciting Home Office Counting Rules), feeling pain makes the difference between a common assault and ABH.

Now consider the benchmark for recording an offence of wounding. This is a category in which the severity of injury can vary hugely.

We define a ‘wound’ as a breaking of the continuity of the whole skin.

This could be a huge Holby City extra style gash running the length of someone’s body and this sort of wound is likely the sort you’d imagine as ‘grievous’.

Equally so though, it could be no bigger than a paper cut.

Because it’s the breaking of the skin that qualifies a wounding as such, many of the injuries that we record as woundings – I’d go as far to say the majority – are relatively minor, sometimes so small that they can’t even be photographed.

With the definition of ‘wound’ so encompassing, statistics for what is recorded as ‘serious violence’ can be somewhat skewed.

The 10,160 incidents of serious violence certainly doesn’t mean 10,160 people with stab wounds, broken bones and worse.

When it comes to agreeing community resolutions in relation to these sort of offence categories, it’s essential to keep in mind that we are victim led and that without the consent and agreement of the victims themselves, community resolutions aren’t even an option.

When we attend incidents, we have to consider the circumstances and will ask the person reporting what course of action they would see as appropriate. We do our best to explain the options and come up with a course of action that the victim is happy with.

Take a hypothetical example of two friends who after a few too many sherbets fall out and one ends up pushing the other against a door latch causing a very, very small cut to the forearm.

A complaint is made and as we’ve got a break in the skin, we have no choice but to record a crime of inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent. A serious crime has been registered, time for court!

Speaking to the now-sober victim though, he doesn’t want his friend to go to court. He’d rather an apology be made and they look at putting the matter behind them.

As we’ve checked his friend out and found he hasn’t been in trouble for violence in the past, we pull out the local resolution form and resolve the matter there and then.

It’s a proportionate, appropriate and very sensible way to sort out what at first appears a very serious offence but in reality is actually not quite as it seems.

So looking beyond the raw figures and into the detail of how wider a definition ‘serious violence’ can be, the story isn’t quite as shocking as it first appears.

Local resolutions are all about common sense, by properly understanding how we define the different levels of assault hopefully you can be reassured that our own understanding of common sense has not been lost.

P.S. If you’d like to know more about the different levels of assault, have a look at my blog on the subject from last September.

For more on community resolutions and restorative justice, have a look at the Restorative Justice Council website and also see what our ACPO lead, ACC Garry Shewan, had to say on the story here.

Hungry for more info on local resolutions? See our own website for a little more on how they’re used and why they’re useful.

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch, but he never did like to talk about it all that much…

Assaults: Fine if you’re in a boxing ring with a moustache but what if you’re elsewhere? What does the law say?

A few weeks ago I’d been forwarded a question on Twitter from someone curious to know what the difference is between the various levels of assault set out by our good friend the law.

Whilst I’ve written a couple of blogs previously about assault in reference to specific incidents, namely spitting and those happening on the sports field, I realised that I’ve not yet written anything explaining what separates one assault from another in any particular detail.

As assaults are one of the most common reports that we come to investigate, here we go then – a whistle stop tour of the four main types of assault that you might here the news presenters talk about from time to time.

Starting off with the least severe form of assault, we have common assault which comes from S. 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

As you may have gathered if you’ve read my blog on how spitting could be considered an assault, for a S. 39 assault you don’t even need to have made contact with your victim. That you have caused them to ‘apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force’ is enough.

Had contact been made, a S. 39 assault would still be appropriate to record if the victim hasn’t suffered any pain or injury, for example they’d been pushed.

You’ll begin to see that the main factors that separate the different offences covering assault are level of injury and then, as the assaults become more serious, the intent of the offender.

The second form of assault we refer to is S. 47 of one of my favourite old, old laws – 1861’s Offences Against The Person Act.

This one is usually referred to as ‘actual bodily harm’ and means just that, that the victim suffers some physical injury as a result of an assault. This injury can be psychological and doesn’t have to be permanent so that a victim has experienced pain then we have a S. 47 assault.

Getting more serious now, we move up to grievous bodily harm without intent which comes from S. 20 of the Offences Against The Person Act.

The difference between S. 47 and S. 20 is the level of injury caused. The S. 47 we might be looking at unsightly bruises, grazes and red marks but for a S. 20 it’s more likely that we’ll be facing cuts, broken bones and other gory disfigurements.

Beyond S. 20 we have the worst type of assault, the S. 18 which refers to grievous bodily harm with intent. It’s the intent of the offender that makes the difference between S. 20 and S. 18 and as such it’s what we call a crime of ‘specific’ intent.

The difference between S. 20 and S. 18 is that in a S. 18 the offender is believed to have intended to cause grievous bodily harm – they’ve not only caused someone to suffer a serious injury but they’ve specifically meant to do so.

The intent may be proven during an interview or from the circumstances under which the assault has taken place. Was, for example, a weapon used, were there prior threats or was it a sustained assault? All of these factors point towards some intention to seriously injure.

As a slight curve ball, the ‘intent’ can also be to resist or prevent an arrest so if an officer was to, say, suffer a broken arm because he has been kicked by someone he is trying to lawfully arrest then that person has added a S. 18 assault to whatever offence they were already accused of.

So the above of the four levels of assault that we commonly deal with, now to confuse things slightly by mentioning CPS Charging Standards.

Certainly for the more serious levels of assault but also in any lower level of assault that is domestic related, it is the Crown Prosecution Service that makes the decision of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a person and if there is, what they should be charged with.

To help prosecutors make a decision, the CPS publishes Charging Standards which set out the signposts that point towards it being more appropriate to charge one level of assault over another.

The Standards sometimes confuse police officers as much as they do anyone else but help ensure that when people are charged, they are charged in a proportionate way.

What does this mean? Well, take the definition of a S. 20 assault as an example. If you somehow gave an annoying colleague a paper cut then technically you’d have inflicted grievous bodily harm as a cut, no matter how minor, is the result.

The word ‘grievous’ though implies that the wound is serious, whilst any wound is serious to the victim, to the law it wouldn’t be sensible to charge someone for grievous bodily harm if the harm is a paper cut, hence the Charging Standards adjust things slightly.

According to the Charging Standards then, common assault can include grazes, scratches, bruising, superficial cuts and swelling. Actual bodily harm refers to ‘serious’ harm so cuts requiring stitches, minor fractures and lost teeth whilst grievous bodily harm is seen as meaning broken bones, blood transfusions and permanent disability.

So there we have it, the four types of assaults and what stands between each one. If this has interested you, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are further laws covering assaults on police officers, on emergency workers and the reasonably frequent ‘assault with intent to resist arrest’ which villains sometimes fall foul of when they lash out at us.

Whilst it isn’t uncommon for assaults to be reported, thankfully the most serious types of assault are relatively rare.

Being assaulted isn’t a nice thing to happen to anyone but when it does happen the law has provided us with a decent toolbox to ensure that we can bring offenders to justice.

As further proof that the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 is one of the best, it also includes offences of ‘Impeding a person endeavouring to save himself from shipwreck’, ‘Assaults with intent to obstruct the sale of grain, or its free passage’ and ‘Not providing apprentices or servants with food etc. whereby life is endangered’.

Hail, Hail, Spit n’ Drool…

Spitting like this could see an offender sent to prison, even if he is wearing a funny hat.

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.


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