When you think of assault you probably imagine a fight or an act of physical violence. But what you may not know is that for an assault to occur no physical contact need have taken place. Just the mere belief that you are about to encounter unlawful force – by threats, words or actions of another – is classed as assault. Battery, on the other hand, is where unlawful physical force is actually applied.
If in the past six years you have been unlawfully threatened with arrest, physical force or violence by the police, then you can bring a claim against them for assault. In respect of battery, the police need only to have unlawfully grabbed you, pushed you, laid a hand upon you or searched you for a claim to arise.
More serious claims of battery, that involve bruises, cuts, suffocation, loss of consciousness, or proven psychiatric harm can be classed as personal injury where payouts are typically much higher. The time limits on personal injury claims are 3 years from the date the incident occurred.
What is assault and battery?
Any act that threatens violence or induces a reasonable expectation of immediate, unlawful force is classed as assault. For instance raising a fist at someone, closing menacingly in, making a verbal threat, veering a vehicle toward someone, aiming a CS canister or baton, unlawfully detaining someone under threat of arrest are all examples of assault.
Battery occurs where there is an undesired deliberate contact without lawful excuse. Touching anyone, no matter how slight, may amount to battery. Handcuffing someone, pushing them into a vehicle, grabbing them by their clothing, poking them in the chest, pushing them back, forcing a door open against them are all examples of battery.
Commonly (as the examples given below will show) where an assault and battery occurs, a false imprisonment may also occur.
What is NOT assault and battery?
Any lawful use of threat or force cannot amount to assault and battery: such as threatening to arrest someone who is causing a breach of the peace, using physical force in self defence or detaining someone under lawful arrest.
Furthermore, for an assault to occur the threat must be real and imminent. Shouting threats from a distance, or at someone in a moving vehicle is not an assault as the person receiving them cannot expect them to be imminent. Nor is passive obstruction an assault, whereby your path is blocked by someone who neither touches nor threatens you.
Battery cannot occur if you allow someone to physically touch you, such as consenting to a body search. Nor can it occur when you are being lawfully restrained unless the force used is excessive and disproportionate.
More examples of assault and battery by the police
The police detain you on the street for questioning under threat of arrest if you don’t comply:
You are never under any obligation to answer questions when stopped by the police in the street. Nor can your refusal to answer questions be used as a reason to detain you further. Such instances of police abuse of authority is also classed as false imprisonment as well as assault.
The police do not have to use aggressive language or communicate clear threats to commit the assault. If their attitude and demeanour make it clear that if you attempt to leave you will be physically prevented from doing so, then this is assault.
The police search you against your will even though they have not voiced a reasonable suspicion that you could be carrying a prohibited item:
This is more commonly referred to as an unlawful stop and search which can automatically give rise to a claim of false imprisonment, assault and battery. An example of this – where we achieved a £500 compensation payout for a Crimebodge reader – with just one legal letter – can be found here.
The police lead you by the arm to their vehicle or insist you sit inside it when you have not been placed under arrest:
Again this would be classed as battery (and or assault) and false imprisonment. The police have no powers to imprison you within the confines of a police vehicle against your will without making an arrest.
The police visit your home to ask questions and then barge you out of the way when you won’t let them in:
You are under no obligation to allow the police into your home. They can only force their way in if it is to rescue life and limb, arrest someone for an indictable (serious) offence, or to recapture someone who has escaped lawful detention or skipped bail.
Breaking down a door that makes no contact with you would not be battery but it would be classed as assault.
The police grab at your camera phone or threaten you if you do not desist from videoing them:
You have every right to film the police in public. They cannot prevent you from doing so simply because they feel it to be intrusive. As long as you are not causing an obstruction then the police have no powers to prevent you from filming them in public.
The police grabbing the phone from your hand would be battery. Threatening to take your phone or arrest you for filming would be assault.
Your right to use reasonable force against the police
In almost all of the circumstances we have listed above you have a right to use reasonable force against the police to resist their unlawful force. Any counter force the police use against you would be assault and battery.
This does not mean that ANY force is acceptable to regain your freedom. Any force you use must be reasonable and proportional to that being used by the police. If they strike you with a baton when attempting to falsely imprison you, then you have a common law right to strike the officer back, bring the officer to the ground or restrain him.