s.47 of the Offences Against Persons Act (1861) reads as follows:-
“ Whosoever shall be convicted upon an indictment of any assault occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable . . . (to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years) . . . ; and whosoever shall be convicted upon an indictment for a common assault shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding (two years).”
Actual bodily harm per se is defined as minor injuries including cuts, bruises, lacerations, or any other harmful act that causes the victim to suffer from some form of injury and it does not only include physical injury but also includes psychiatric injury see R v Burstow (1997) and R v Ireland (1998)
Assault is a prerequisite to obtaining a s47 conviction. Assault is defined as the act of intentionally or recklessly causing the victim to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence i.e. it is an offence that can be committed intentionally or an offence that can be committed without giving due thought to the impact that it would have on the victim.
In order to convict for assault the prosecution does not have to proof or establish physical injury and therefore it stands to reason that in order to obtain a conviction under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) the prosecution does not need to proof or establish physical injury either and it gives the prosecution some scope to convict defendants for causing or precipitating psychiatric illnesses.
A conviction under s47 of the Offences Against Person Act (1861) is more serious that a conviction for assault (assault is a summary offence). The maximum sentence for a s.47 conviction is 7 years whereas the maximum sentence for an assault is only 6 months.
However a s.47 offence is considered a less serious offence when compared to a s18 or a s20 offence of the Offences Against Person Act (1861). Whether an act will amount to an assault or otherwise depends on the facts see R v Wilson (1955).
It is also possible to substitute a s.20 conviction of the Offences Against Person Act 1861 with a s.47 conviction see R v Bollom (2004).
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