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VI. Violence offences

A. Assault and battery

An assault is an intentional or reckless action which brings about the apprehension of the immediate infliction of unlawful force in the mind of the person to whom the action is directed. Words may amount to an assault if the words bring about an apprehension of the immediate application of force in the person to whom the words are addressed.

Aiming a punch at someone is an assault, even if the punch does not land upon that person. The punch brings about the apprehension of the immediate application of unlawful force. It is an act of hostility without any lawful justification. If the punch lands upon the intended victim, that is, in law, a battery.

A battery is the intentional or reckless touching of another person without that person’s consent. Unlawful force has been inflicted upon the victim. For convenience the word “assault” covers conduct which amounts to a battery. There may however be a battery without an assault. A person struck from behind is unaware of what is happening until the blow lands: there is no apprehension of the immediate application of unlawful force.

B. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (AOABH)

Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (AOABH) is an offence contrary to section 39 of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance ( Chapter 212 ).

AOABH is an assault which brings about actual bodily harm. The prosecution must first of all prove all the factual and legal elements of the offence of assault. There must then be evidence that the assault brought about actual bodily harm. This involves issues of fact and causation. Actual bodily harm need not be serious or permanent. A punch which, for example, results in bruising or a broken tooth has caused actual bodily harm.

C. Wounding and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent

Wounding and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent is an offence contrary to section 17 of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance ( Chapter 212 ).

An offence contrary to section 17 is committed where a person:

  1. unlawfully and maliciously, by any means whatsoever, wounds or cause grievous bodily harm to any person; or
  2. shoots at any person; or
  3. by drawing a trigger or in any other manner, attempts to discharge any kind of loaded arms at any person,

with intent to maim, disfigure or disable any person or to do some other grievous bodily harm to any person, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person.

A wound is where the skin is evenly divided. A burn or a bruise is not a wound as the skin is not evenly divided. An internal injury, for example a ruptured kidney, is not a wound though it may well amount to grievous bodily harm. Grievous bodily harm is harm which is really serious and can include psychiatric injury. Whether or not there is grievous bodily harm is a question of fact in each case.

Section 17 charges are brought where the incident is serious, for example, a planned attack using weapons or the attack results in serious injury, for example, serious chop wounds, or serious internal injuries.

Section 17 offences require an ulterior intent: the intent to do grievous bodily harm to any person and the intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detain of any person. The prosecution must first prove the actus reus (guilty act). That is inflicting a wound or causing grievous bodily harm. There prosecution must then prove the accused did this with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and/or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person.

D. Wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm

Unlawful and malicious wounding or inflicting any grievous bodily harm is an offence contrary to section 19 of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance ( Chapter 212 ).

There are two offences under this section: i) inflicting serious bodily harm and ii) wounding.

There must be a wound or serious bodily harm which can include psychiatric injury. That wound or serious bodily harm must have been inflicted by the defendant. “Inflicted” means “caused”. The action which causes the wound or the serious bodily harm must have been done intentionally or recklessly. There is no requirement under section 19 for any ulterior intent. Provided the wound or the serious bodily harm was caused by the defendant's unlawful act and that act was done intentionally or recklessly the requirements of section 19 are satisfied.

E. Fighting in public

Taking part in an unlawful fight in public is an offence, contrary to section 25 of the Public Order Ordinance ( Chapter 245 ).

A "public place" is any place to which for the time being the public or any section of the public are entitled or permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.

The word “fight” must be given its ordinary meaning and involves an equality of aggression.

Persons defending themselves against an attack are not in an equality of aggression situation.

It does not matter who started the fight, who won the fight or what it was about provided there is an equality of aggression. Whether there was or was not a fight depends upon all the circumstances of the particular case.

An agreement to fight in public to settle differences does not make the fight lawful. A properly licensed and supervised boxing match in a public park is however a different matter.

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