The different types of assaults defined by Queensland law
- There are different types of assaults that are defined under the Queensland law.
- It is possible for a person to be charged with assault even if they did not have any physical contact with the other person merely because there was an attempt to commit assault.
- Simply threatening a person without actually assaulting or making an attempt to assault them can be sufficient for a person to be charged with a criminal offence.
- The legal definition of ‘assault’ is far broader than most people would comprehend and can involve different layers of definitions which is why it is important for a person facing criminal charges to work with a competent criminal lawyer in these situations.
The term ‘assault’ is often a very confusing one to people who have not had to encounter the criminal justice system. This is probably as a result of the term being used very loosely, particularly in television shows and movies – and especially because these television shows and movies often originate in the United States of America, where ‘assault’ has a slightly different legal definition.
To most people who are not familiar with the legal definition, the term ‘assault’ would mean to physically hit another person, such as by punching or slapping them. This is not incorrect, but is not completely accurate either.
In this article we’ll look at the different types of assaults that are defined under Queensland law.
What does ‘assault’ actually mean?
Chapter 26 of the Criminal Code Act, which is the body of law governing most criminal offences in Queensland, encompasses assaults and assault related offences in Queensland. The starting point is section 245, which states as follows:
A person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to, the person of another, either directly or indirectly, without the other person’s consent, or with the other person’s consent if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to the person of another without the other person’s consent, under such circumstances that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently a present ability to effect the person’s purpose, is said to assault that other person, and the act is called an assault.
As this section demonstrates, the law is at times far more complicated than a person might think. There are a number of things to consider within this provision.
Whilst the terms ‘strikes’, ‘touches’ or ‘moves’ are relatively clear, the phrase ‘otherwise applies force of any kind’ is anything but clear. Thankfully, this phrase is defined as follows:
‘applies force’ includes the case of applying heat, light, electrical force, gas, odour, or any other substance or thing whatever if applied in such a degree as to cause injury or personal discomfort.
What this means is that if person A were to hold a cigarette lighter up to person B’s face, close enough for B to be able to feel the heat, then arguably an assault may have been committed by A, provided it caused injury or personal discomfort to B. Similarly, if A were to shine a torch into B’s eyes and caused some level of personal discomfort, then again, an assault may have been committed by A.
As this demonstrates, the legal definition of ‘assault’ is far broader than most people would contemplate. Who would’ve thought that they could be charged with a criminal offence by shining a torch into another person’s eyes?
Is an attempt to assault sufficient for an assault to occur?
Imagine that two people, A and B, are shaping up for a fight. The situation escalates and A throws a punch at B. However, B is able to duck the punch. Has A committed an assault in this situation?
Going back to the definition, an assault includes an attempt to commit the assault – in the above scenario, the punch. Therefore, even though A has not made any physical contact with B, his bodily gesture in attempting to punch B is sufficient for an assault and he can be charged with a criminal offence.
Can a threat to assault be sufficient for an assault to occur?
Now that we’ve determined what exactly is required for an assault to occur – being actual physical contact, the application of force or a threat to do either of these things – the next question is whether or not a threat to assault another person is sufficient for an assault to occur.
A typical example would be if a person were to raise their fist as though they were about to punch another person, in a manner that would appear as though they are about to punch that other person.
Going back to the definition, an assault includes a threat to apply force to another person by any bodily act or gesture. Therefore, simply threatening to assault a person, without actually assaulting or making an attempt to assault them, can be sufficient for a person to be charged with a criminal offence.
Can a verbal threat to assault be sufficient for an assault to occur?
Now that we’ve seen that a bodily act or gesture which threatens an assault is sufficient for an assault to occur, we then need to consider whether or not a verbal threat to assault is sufficient.
Imagine the scenario where A says to B that ‘I will punch you in the face’. Apart from saying these words A doesn’t make any bodily movements whatsoever. The law says that this is sufficient to constitute an assault, as the saying of these words amounts to a ‘bodily gesture’.
As can be seen, the law is sometimes an extremely complicated thing, involving many different layers of definitions, most of which would not be known by people who are not legally trained. This is why it is always so important for a person facing criminal charges to engage the services of a competent criminal lawyer.
In our next article we’ll discuss the different types of assaults that can be committed in Queensland.
If you’re needing advice or assistance with legal matters (including understanding your legal obligations), Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.