8 out of 10 domestic abuse cases are assaults.
Get the advice you need to protect yourself, your family, your home, your job.
Assaults are especially common in domestic relationships. The domestic context of the assault makes the offending more serious because it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship.
Domestic abuse offences are regarded as particularly serious within the criminal justice system. Domestic abuse is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues, therefore the police prioritise domestic violence cases at an early stage to avoid escalation.
Domestic abuse can inflict lasting trauma on victims and their extended families, especially children and young people who either witness the abuse or are aware of it having occurred. Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident and it is the cumulative and interlinked physical, psychological, sexual, emotional or financial abuse that has a particularly damaging effect on the victims and those around them.
A mere allegation of assault can be enough to result in arrest or a voluntary interview. For a suspect this can lead to restrictive bail conditions, a charge and a court case.
For suspects, police investigations and Court hearings can have a dramatic impact on day to day living. Access to the family home and to children is often restricted and any caution or conviction can affect employment as it would remain on the police national computer and may be disclosed on a DBS check.
Assault is rarely the only live issue in a domestic incident, it often coincides with allegations of criminal damage, harassment, stalking, controlling or coercive behaviour, threats to kill, breach of protective order, social media offences and public order offences.
Key points for suspects
All assault allegations are serious for suspects. Good legal advice is essential at an early stage to protect yourself.
Common assault can be very easy to allege and can result in an arrest or a voluntary interview under caution. Any arrest or charge can then result in bail condition being put on you, restricting access to the victim or the family home, this can often make it very difficult for you to see your children.
Care is needed to build a defence case, defences such as self-defence are complicated and as domestic violence cases are a high priority for the police any other evidence becomes relevant. This is especially important if a victim withdraws support, there may be evidence from any other witnesses, CCTV evidence, transcripts of any 999 calls or police body camera recordings of comments made at the scene.
Your employment can be affected as any caution or conviction will appear on the police national computer and can be disclosed on a DBS check.
Even if the case ends with no further action the victim can use the same allegation to apply for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order against you.
Common Assault explained
Common assault is the lowest and most common type of assault. It can be a push, slap, punch, hair pulling, kick or spit and does not have to result in any visible or lasting injury. It can even include situations where there is no actual physical touch, fearing an assault, such as an aimed punch that fails to connect during an argument, can be enough for common assault.
Common assault is split into two types of offences, common assault by battery is where a person intentionally or recklessly uses force against another person, such as a slap, push or punch. The term “common assault by beating” is the wording of any such arrest or charge, it often causes concern as a suspect will naturally dispute “beating” someone, but in reality it is just antiquated legal wording for the “application of force”, and the forced used can be very minor.
Simple common assault is where a person causes another to suffer or apprehend immediate unlawful violence, such as the pulling of an arm back as if to hit the other, or a thrown punch that fails to connect.
What is Self-defence?
Self-defence is the most general defence to any assault allegation. A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of:
defence of another
defence of property
prevention of crime; or
When considering the reasonableness of the force used, two questions are considered:
was the use of force necessary in the circumstances, i.e. Was there a need for any force at all?; and
was the force used reasonable in the circumstances?
Much depends on the circumstances as the suspect believed them to be.
A suspect can rely upon an honestly held belief to establish reasonable force, even if it turns out to be mistaken. However, the more unreasonable the belief, the less likely it is that the court will accept it was honestly held.
The two key considerations to be taken into account when deciding whether the force used was reasonable are:
1. that a person acting for a legitimate purpose may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action;
2. that evidence of a person's having only done what the person honestly and instinctively thought was necessary for a legitimate purpose constitutes strong evidence that only reasonable action was taken by that person for that purpose.
So, as self defence is a legitimate purpose, a person using force to defend themselves can rely on the defence even if it subsequently transpires that in hindsight the force used was more than was required.
As an example, if someone pushes you then you could push them back in self-defence, if you punched them back instead it may be seen as excessive physical force, but if at the time it was instinctively thought to be necessary then you could still rely upon self-defence for the punch.
Conversely, if someone pushes you and you reacted by punching and kicking them multiple times it would be difficult to justify that force as self-defence. It is unlikely to be accepted that such force was reasonable despite any instinctive or honestly held belief. A Court is likely to decide that the force used was excessive and therefore unlawful.
There is no rule to say that a person must wait to be struck first before they defend themselves. A person fearing an imminent attack can use force to defend themselves, or another.
Failure to retreat when attacked and when it is possible and safe to do so is not conclusive evidence that a person was not acting in self-defence.
Once self-defence is raised it is for the prosecution to disprove beyond all reasonable doubt that the suspect was not acting to defend himself/herself or another; or not acting to defend property; or not acting to prevent a crime or to apprehend an offender; or that the force used was excessive.
Consent is a separate but key issue, ordinarily it must be proven that the offence was committed without consent, hence why a victim statement and support for a prosecution is an important factor. Many domestic violence allegations result in no further action because victims fail to give statements or support a prosecution after an initial complaint to the police. However, if there is other evidence to infer a lack of consent, such as other witness accounts or video footage then a prosecution can continue.
Common assault is a summary offence and therefore the maximum sentence is 6 months in prison.
ABH stand for Actual Bodily Harm. It is more serious than common assault, it basically covers cases where more harm is caused to the victim. There is considerable overlap between common assault and ABH and it is not unusual for a suspect to be arrested for ABH but charged with common assault.
Serious injuries which may be considered as ABH include damaged teeth or bones, extensive and severe bruising, cuts requiring stitching and incidents that result in a loss of consciousness.
Common assault injuries often include grazes, scratches, abrasions, minor bruising, swellings, reddening of the skin and superficial cuts.
How the assault took place may also affect the charge, incidents involving punching, kicking or head-butting or where a weapon has been used are more likely to be ABH, as opposed to pushing or slapping which would often be classed as common assault.
It should be noted that a victim cannot consent to ABH injuries.
ABH carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. Note that defences such as self-defence as discussed above still apply.
GBH stands for grievous bodily harm, it means "really serious" harm. It is more serious than ABH.
Life-changing injuries are normally charged as GBH. Just as the need for medical treatment may indicate ABH injuries, significant or sustained medical treatment (for instance, broken bones, intensive care or a blood transfusion) may indicate GBH injuries, even if a full or relatively full recovery follows. Examples of GBH include broken bones or a stab wound.
There are two types of GBH, section 20 and section 18. Section 18 is more serious as it means the person intended to cause that level of injury.
The prosecution must prove under section 20 that either the defendant intended, or actually foresaw, that the act might cause some harm. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant either intended or foresaw the level of injury that resulted. So, for example, if you punch someone and it broke their jaw, it may not have been your intention to break their jaw, but as some harm was foreseeable, a section 20 GBH would be the appropriate charge.
The prosecution must prove under section 18 that the suspect intended to wound and/or cause grievous bodily harm, and such harm occurred.
Intention is harder to prove as it requires a conscious act, such as planning, a repeated attack, selecting and using a weapon, threats made prior to an attack or kicking or using a weapon towards a person’s head.
It should be noted that a victim cannot consent to GBH injuries.
The maximum sentence for section 20 is five years in prison, for section 18 it is life imprisonment, therefore avoiding a prosecution for section 18 GBH is essential. Note that defences such as self-defence as discussed above still apply.
Assault is never straightforward. Good legal advice is essential at an early stage.