The defendant can commit an assault by merely remaining silent. In R v Ireland (1998) the defendant harassed three separate women over a period of three months by continuously making repeated phone calls to them and remaining silent. He was convicted under s.47 of the Offences Against Persons Act (1861) (OAPA 1861) which reads as follows: –
s.47 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].
The defendant appealed on the grounds that silence cannot constitute an assault.
The appeal was dismissed, and the conviction was upheld. Silence can constitute an assault when it is done to instill fear in the victim or to intimidate the victim.
“The proposition that a gesture may amount to an assault, but that words can never suffice, is unrealistic and indefensible. A thing said is also a thing done. There is no reason why something said should be incapable of causing an apprehension of immediate personal violence, e.g. a man accosting a woman in a dark alley saying, “come with me or I will stab you.” I would, therefore, reject the proposition that an assault can never be committed by words.” – Lord Steyn
On whether psychiatric illnesses fall under the scope of bodily harm –
“In my view the ruling in that case was based on principled and cogent reasoning and it marked a sound and essential clarification of the law. I would hold that “bodily harm” in sections 18, 20 and 47 must be interpreted so as to include recognizable psychiatric illness.” – Lord Steyn
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward