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For how long can the Police hold you for Assault in the UK?

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If you are suspected of committing assault, the police have a legal power to hold you at the police station for a certain amount of time while they decide what to do with you (i.e. whether to charge you or release you). Being held for assault might be more common than most would like in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that the decision is always straightforward. Oftentimes, the decision on how long to hold someone depends on a number of factors and getting more senior officers involved will be necessary if the police need to hold you for longer periods. In this article, we will explore how long the police can hold you for assault in the UK and what might influence their decision-making process. We also outline the general process of what happens if you are arrested for assault.

What are assault offences?

In the criminal law of England and Wales, there are three main types of assault charge that you need to be aware of:

Common assault occurs where someone intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate unlawful violence. Note that no physical violence is actually required, but pushing, shoving, or obstructing someone may count as common assault. Common assault is by far the most minor of the three assault offences and is typically punished with a fine or community order. That said, a custodial sentence is possible and more serious punishments are levied if the assault was particularly harmful, was against an emergency worker, or was motivated by racial or religious hatred or discrimination.

Actual bodily harm (or ABH for short) generally refers to injuring somebody to the point where they experience some minor physical pain. This could be anything from mild bruising to more severe injuries like a concussion. It is important to remember that the injury doesn’t have to be permanent in order for it to count as ABH. ABH carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Grievous bodily harm (GBH) or wounding is the most serious of the assault offences. It occurs when a person causes serious physical injury to another, such as broken ribs and lacerations. Committed without intent, this offence carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Committed with intent, this offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

What are the potential punishments for assault cases?

The punishments if found guilty of assault vary depending on the level of harm caused and the culpability of the defendant.

As for sentence maximums:

  • Common assault carries a maximum sentence of six months’ custody, unless the assault was upon an emergency worker (in which case it is up to one year’s imprisonment) or racially or religiously aggravated (which attracts up to two years’ imprisonment).
  • Actual bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment (or, if racially or religiously aggravated, seven years).
  • Grievous bodily harm without intent carries a maximum sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment (or, if racially or religiously aggravated, seven years). With intent, the maximum sentence is a life sentence.

What happens if you are suspected of assault?

If you are suspected of committing an assault, the police can lawfully hold you in custody at the police station for a certain amount of time while they decide how to proceed with your case. The only exception is if you require emergency medical treatment and need to be seen at the hospital (in which case, they will send an officer to supervise you at the hospital).

Once this period of time has elapsed, the police must either charge you with assault or a related offence suitable to your alleged actions, or they must release you. If they release you, they may release you unconditionally, they may release you on police bail, or they may release you under investigation. In any case, you could be recalled back to the police station at any time for further questioning or to be charged.

Police bail comes with time limits and restrictions on your activities (such as having to report to a bail officer or having to get permission to go abroad), whereas being released under investigation does not actually come with any time limits or conditions on your release.

How long are you held at the police station for assault?

Generally speaking, the maximum amount of time that the police can hold you before charging you is 24 hours. In exceptional circumstances where the crime is particularly serious or involves a national security threat, senior officers or the Magistrate can extend the amount of time the police may hold you. In the vast majority of cases, you will not be held beyond 96 hours.

During your arrest and detention, you have certain rights that must be protected. These include:

  • to remain silent and not answer any questions
  • to consult with a solicitor and have legal representation throughout the entire process
  • to receive medical assistance if you are injured or sick
  • to contact someone to tell them where you are or to arrange childcare and the like
  • to receive interpretation assistance if you do not speak English or do not speak it well enough to understand what is happening

Can you be released under investigation for assault?

Yes, you may be released under investigation for assault. If this happens, here are the key points to understand:

  • you will not be given a clear date when you must return to the police station; instead, you must wait until the investigation concludes, which may take weeks or even months
  • if the police decide to charge you, you will either be called back to the police station, or you will receive a postal requisition via a letter that outlines the charge against you and gives you a date and location for attending court
  • the police may seize your personal property if you are released under investigation, including clothes, jewellery, cars, mobile phones, or anything else relevant to the crime being investigated
  • unlike police bail, you are not required to report to a bail officer on a regular basis

How long does it take the police to charge you with assault?

If the police want to charge you during or immediately after your initial detention period at the station, they have a maximum of 24 hours to do so in most cases. Though, as we have already mentioned, a senior officer or Magistrate may be able to extend your detention period in exceptional circumstances.

If you are released on bail, the police have an initial period of 28 days in which to charge you. This period may be extended several times, up to 12 months, in fact, if the police require more time to conclude their investigations and make a charging decision.

If you are released under investigation, there is no default time limit by which the police must charge you. It could be days, weeks, or even months before you hear anything back.

What happens when you are charged with assault?

If you are charged with assault, the police could notify you of the charge and provide details of the court to attend and the date on which you must appear at the court. In the alternative, you could receive a summons letter through the post (a ‘postal requisition’), detailing the charge and requiring that you attend a hearing at court on a given date and time. Note that you will not be told what evidence the police have against you on your charge sheet. You may be released on bail or held in custody pending your first hearing depending on the severity of the offence.

In between being charged and attending the first hearing, you will have opportunities to meet with your solicitor to discuss your plea and any applicable defence preparations.

Once the matter proceeds to court (via a hearing or trial), the court will consider all the evidence presented and decide whether or not you are guilty. If you are found guilty, the judge or magistrate will sentence you, taking into account any pleas of mitigation put forward by your defence team. In most cases, if you are given a custodial sentence, you will be taken to prison immediately.

Where to get more help with an assault charge?

If you are suspected of assault, it is crucial to get experienced legal representation as soon as possible. Countless factors can influence how your case progresses, and a good solicitor may even be able to get your case dropped before it even reaches the charging or trial point. The expert team at Stuart Miller Solicitors has a proven track record of success in defending clients against assault charges and we can provide the support you need during this difficult time. Do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation today.


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