If you have been charged with assault by beating, you may well be asking yourself questions about the law behind the charge. To provide you with some answers, this article explores the offence of assault by beating, with particular attention paid to the very serious special offence of assault by beating of an emergency worker. The article also examines the assault by beating sentencing guidelines and potentially available defences, and provides some examples of incidents that may lead to a charge of assault by beating. Information on how to get more help is provided at the end.
The offence of assault by beating arises under the category of common assault, which is set out at Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. An assault is any act that causes a person to suffer or fear that they are about to suffer immediate unlawful violence. To qualify for the charge of common assault, the assault must be committed either intentionally or recklessly.
You will find ‘assault by beating’ on the charge sheet where the assault has come about through battery. A battery is committed where the defendant applies unlawful force to another person. This charge can be applied even where the force applied to the victim was very slight. By contrast, where there has been an intention to use unlawful force – for example, a punch that misses or a lack of actual physical contact, such as spitting – the charge sheet will state ‘assault’.
Common assault can only occur where the victim did not consent to the activity in question. In some cases, the prosecution may have to establish that an offence was committed without consent. In other cases, a lack of consent can be inferred by the circumstances.
Many occurrences of physical contact in daily life are not actionable (i.e. they cannot be classified as a criminal offence) because they involve implied consent – for example, if someone accidentally knocks your arm on a crowded underground train during rush hour, the police would be unlikely to bring a charge for assault, despite you not consenting to that touching.
The offence of assault of an emergency worker is set out in a new law, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. The act states that where there has been a battery of an emergency worker, whilst they are at work or performing work functions, the sentences available to the courts are more serious than a normal common assault charge. A person can be sentenced to up to 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine, or both, for assaulting an emergency worker.
Anyone found guilty of the offence of assault by beating can receive a sentence of up to 26 weeks’ custody, a fine, or a community order. When deciding the sentence for assault by beating, the court will take into account both the harm caused by the defendant, and the defendant’s culpability (blameworthiness).
When calculating harm, the court must look at all the facts of the case. Relevant factors will include the level of harm caused to the victim and the victim’s vulnerability (for example, if they were elderly, physically impaired, or suffered from mental health issues). The level of harm will be deemed higher if the assault was sustained or repeated.
A higher level of blame will also be allocated to the defendant where the defendant committed the assault due to hostility towards the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity (actual or presumed), sex, or based on their disability.
In addition, the defendant will be more blameworthy if the offence was planned or premeditated, if a weapon was threatened or used, or if the defendant intended to cause more harm than was actually caused. Activities committed by a gang, or specifically targeted at a person because of their vulnerability, will attract a higher level of culpability.
The Sentencing Council provides a detailed guide to sentencing for assault by beating.
Consent: In some circumstances, you may be able to defend a charge of assault by beating on the grounds that the victim consented to the activity. For example, if you punched your opponent in the course of a lawful boxing match, you may be able to rely upon this defence. Another example could be if you slapped a friend on the shoulder as a greeting. You may be able to suggest that there was implied consent, because you always greeted one another this way.
In some circumstances, you may be able to rely upon what is called a ‘general defence’ to assault by beating. General defences relate to the person accused rather than the crime itself. General defences include:
Intoxication: The courts are reluctant to accept voluntary intoxication (choosing to consume drugs and alcohol) as an excuse for criminal behaviour, but they may accept involuntary intoxication (if someone spiked your drink or otherwise drugged you, leading to the criminal behaviour).
Automatism: If you were not aware of your actions when committing the offence, in some rare circumstances, you may be able to rely upon the defence of automatism. This defence relates to medical automatism (i.e. sleepwalking or other involuntary/unconscious actions) than self-induced automatism (i.e. through drugs or alcohol).
Use of force in prevention of crime: You are permitted to use reasonable force to prevent a crime from taking place or in order to assist in a lawful arrest. For example, if you injured a person in an attempt to prevent them from assaulting someone else.
Self-defence: The law says that if you are attacked, you may use the force that is reasonably necessary to defend yourself. You may also use reasonable force to defend another person or property. For example, if you were attacked, and you retaliated to protect yourself or someone else, you may be able to rely on this defence.
Duress/necessity: This is where you were forced by a person or a set of circumstances to commit an offence. The court will consider whether the defendant reasonably feared death or serious injury if they did not commit the act, and whether a reasonable person in his or her situation would have shared those fears and responded in the same way.
Insanity: If the court finds that due to mental illness, you lacked the ability to reason such that you did not know that the act that you were doing was against the law, you may be acquitted on the grounds of insanity.
Mistake: This defence could apply if you were mistaken as to certain factual circumstances and would not have committed the offence if you had known otherwise. For example, perhaps you believed that the victim had shop-lifted, and you attempted to conduct a citizen’s arrest. It subsequently transpired that the victim was innocent of any crime. The court will consider whether your belief was honest but mistaken, and if it was reasonable in the circumstances. You cannot rely on your mistaken understanding of the law as a defence, though this could lead to you receiving a lesser sentence.
Defences are a complex area of the law and you should consult a solicitor for advice on the facts of your case.
If you or a loved one has been charged with assault by beating, seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor today. The right advice may just help you avoid a conviction, which could have long-lasting consequences for your personal and professional life. Contact Stuart Miller Solicitors for a consultation today. Our friendly and professional solicitors will provide you with robust advice and guide you through the criminal justice process, helping you to secure the best possible result.