Assaults and Offences of Violence

“Offences of violence” is a broad category of offences which generally refer to the use of some force by one person to another which is not otherwise authorised, justified, or excused by law. There are many available defences to charges of this nature. We can advise you as to whether you have a defence of self-defence or provocation, for example.

Penalties for offences of violence vary markedly from a minor fine for a first time offender charged with an assault, to lengthy periods of imprisonment.

Common Assault

For the offence of common assault, the force used need not cause any injury whatsoever, but rather simply have resulted in pain or personal discomfort. Indeed, even threatened violence, without any force actually being applied, can be sufficient to constitute the offence.

An example of a common assault is a punch or a slap which causes minor pain or discomfort but does not otherwise result in an injury.

Serious Assault

A serious assault can be described as an “aggravated” common assault.

The Criminal Code lists a series of instances where a ‘serious assault’ can be alleged, such as where:

  • the assault is upon a police officer, including biting or spitting;
  • the complainant (victim) is aged 60 years or more;
  • the complainant relies on a guide such a hearing dog;
  • the assault is upon a person performing a duty imposed by law.

Assaults occasioning bodily harm (AOBH)

A more serious form of assault is one occasioning bodily harm, and is usually charged where an injury is caused, but where that injury has not resulted in death or any permanent injury or disfigurement.

Examples of such injuries include cuts and bruises, or fractured bones which do not require treatment to avoid permanent injury.

In some instances, a more serious version of the charge can be laid; the prosecution may allege a ‘circumstance of aggravation’, which in the case of an assault occasioning bodily harm allegation, could be where:

  • a weapon is used, or the person pretends to be armed with a weapon;
  • the accused is in company with one or more others during the assault.

Unlawful wounding

Wounding is an offence which may be charged in circumstances where the skin is broken or penetrated. A common example of wounding is where the injury is as a result of a “glassing” or having been inflicted by a knife.

Grievous bodily harm (GBH)

The offence of causing grievous bodily harm is reserved for cases where serious injury or disfigurement has been caused, or where the results of an attack could have been life-threatening for the victim had they not been medically treated.

Examples of injuries which may constitute GBH include serious bone fractures, and injuries which cause a lot of bleeding.

Whether an injury is sufficient to constitute GBH is often the subject of argument, as medical opinions may differ. For this reason, it is often desirable for the defence team  to engage the services of a medical expert to provide an opinion, particularly given the serious penalties imposed for a charge of GBH.

Choking, suffocation or strangulation

Section 315A of the Criminal Code (Qld) provides that a person commits a crime if the person unlawfully chokes, suffocates or strangles another person, without the other person’s consent, and either:

  • the person [offender] is in a domestic relationship with the other person [victim]; or
  • the choking, suffocation or strangulation is associated domestic violence under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012.

The offence of strangulation was introduced on 5 May 2016 following a recommendation made by the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.

In its report, the taskforce found that strangulation was a key predictor of domestic homicide (murder) and an appropriate penalty should be applied to account for this increased risk of subsequent escalation to the victim.

Section 315A provides that a person who commits the offence of strangulation is liable to a maximum penalty of 7 years’ imprisonment.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter may be alleged in circumstances where a person unlawfully causes the death of (kills) another person, however in doing so, did not intend to cause that death.

That lack of intent is what separates this offence from murder.

The accused’s actions need only be a “substantial or significant” cause of the death, or where those actions “substantially contributed to the death”.

Murder

Murder is regarded as the most serious crime that a person can commit.

As with the offence of manslaughter, the first element of the charge of murder is that there has been an unlawful killing; that is, a killing that is otherwise not justified or excused at law (see below for possible defences to murder).

For a charge of murder to be made out, whilst intention is necessary, it need not be an intention to kill, but can include an intention to cause grievous bodily harm. Like the offence of manslaughter, the offending actions need only be a “substantial or significant” cause of death, or which “substantially contributed to it”.

There are various complete and partial defences to murder. A complete defence, if successful, will result in an acquittal altogether, while a successful partial defence, such as “diminished responsibility”, will result in a verdict of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

Unlawful striking causing death

Unlawful striking causing death is charged in cases where there has been an unlawful strike to the head or neck which directly or indirectly causes death.  

Striking is defined as directly applying force by punching or kicking, or by otherwise hitting using any part of the body, with or without the use of a dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument.

This offence is different to manslaughter and murder because there is no element of intent or foreseeability. Furthermore, defences such as accident or repetition of insult are not available to an accused.

Unlawful striking causing death carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In addition, upon conviction, the court must make an order that the person is not released from prison until they have served the lesser of either: 80% of the person’s sentence for the offence, or 15 years imprisonment.