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Charged with assault?

Assault offences are common in the community and make up a large proportion of all matters before the Local Court.  They are a serious offence and shouldn’t be taken lightly, with sentencing options ranging from community service orders and heavy fines to weekend detention and imprisonment.

An assault is any act by which a person intentionally, or recklessly, causes another person to apprehend (meaning to fear) immediate and unlawful violence.  It may or not involve actual force.

Sometimes assaults are committed as a result of self defence, duress or necessity.  In all situations, including instances where multiple offenders are involved, the police need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  • the accused person was the one who committed the offence
  • it happened without the consent of the complainant
  • there was no lawful excuse for the assault
  • the accused did strike, touch or apply force to another person (unless it’s an assault with no physical contact, as described below).


Common assault is the charge most frequently issued by police and alleges that an assault has happened, but hasn’t inflicted any lasting injury or scarring.  It carries a maximum penalty of two years prison.  If an assault is committed between people who have, or had, a domestic connection you will see “DV” (domestic violence) after the charge.  This means even if a victim or complainant decides to drop the assault charge, police will take it further.

Where no physical contact has been made, a person can still be charged with assault on the basis that the victim has had instilled in them the fear, or belief, that violence is going to happen.  Menacing and intimidating behaviour certainly can constitute an assault.

The offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm is a more serious offence than common assault and if proven carries a maximum penalty of five years prison.  There must be evidence of some form of physical injury for this offence to be proven.

Even more serious is the charge of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm – as might be expected, this offence covers the situation of an assault causing very serious injury.

Reckless grievous bodily harm, or reckless wounding means the accused person realised their actions may seriously harm the victim, but when ahead with the assault regardless.  Penalties for reckless grievous bodily harm include a maximum 10 years prison if the assault was committed alone and 14 years if committed in company.  Reckless wounding carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

Wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent carries a maximum sentence of 25 years prison.  It’s important to note this offence also applies to any grievous bodily harm caused during a situation of resisting arrest.

“The material provided in our information sheets is for general knowledge only and is not a substitute for independent legal advice.  For further information about the issues affecting you, please contact one of our experienced and professional lawyers for expert advice.

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