Assault Offences (WA)
Assault offences in Western Australia are governed by the Criminal Code 1913 (WA). Assault offences range from common assault, which is generally dealt with in the Magistrates Court to grievous bodily harm which must be committed to the District Court. Assaults of a sexual nature that fall short of sexual assault are generally charged as indecent assault. Assaults can attract a range of penalties depending on the circumstances of the offence and of the offender. These include fines, terms of imprisonment and community orders.
Definition of Assault
Section 222 of the Criminal Code defines an assault as any instance of a person touching or applying force to another person without the other person’s consent, or attempting or threatening to do so.
An assault may consist of a slap, punch, push, or through the indirect application of force, such as by throwing something at another person. A person can be found guilty of an assault whether or not injury was caused to the person assaulted.
An aggravated assault occurs where the offender is in a domestic relationship with the victim, where a child was present, where the conduct breaches the terms of a restraining order, where the victim is 60 years or older, or where the offence is racially motivated.
Common assault charges in Western Australia are laid where a person has been assaulted but no circumstances of aggravation were present and no injuries were sustained. Common assault offences are governed by Section 313 of the Criminal Code and are dealt with by the Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty for a common assault is 18 months imprisonment and a fine of $18,000.
However, where the assault occurs in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty that applies is three years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000.
Assault Occasioning Bodily Harm
Section 314 of the Criminal Code make sit an offence to commit an assault occasioning bodily harm. Bodily harm is any kind of physical injury which interferes with the victim’s health or comfort. Such injuries may include minor cuts and bruises, or injuries that are relatively minor but require medical intervention, such as stitches or pain killers.
This offence is dealt with in either the Magistrates’ Court or the District Court. When a matter is heard in the District Court, the offence carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment; however, this may increase to seven years imprisonment if the offence occurs in circumstances of aggravation. For cases heard summarily (in the Magistrates’ Court)m the maximum penalty that applies is two years imprisonment and a fine of $24,000. If the offence occurred in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty that the Magistrates Court can impose is three years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000.
Assault with intent
Under Section 317A of the Criminal Code, it is an offence to assault a person with the intent to commit a crime, to do grievous bodily harm t a person, or to prevent the lawful arrest o r detention of a person. This crime is punishable by a maximum penalty of five year (or seven if it is committed under circumstances of aggravation).
Grievous bodily harm
Grievous bodily harm is defined as any bodily injury of a serious nature that is likely to endanger life or cause permanent injury or death. This charge may laid when the victim of an assault has sustained serious disfigurement, the loss of a limb or broken bones.
It is a very serious offence, carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, and is dealt with by the District Court.
The maximum penalty for grievous bodily harm is increased to 14 years imprisonment if the grievous bodily harm is committed during the theft of a car, while the victim was working in a particular job such as an ambulance officer, health care worker, or court officer, or where the offence occurs in circumstances of aggravation.
Under Section 318 of the Criminal Code it is an offence to assault a public officer or police officer in their line of duty.
The maximum penalty for serious assault in Western Australia is imprisonment for seven years. The penalty for serious assault is raised to 10 years imprisonment if the offender was armed with a weapon or was in the company of one or more other persons. In addition, where the assault was committed against a police officer, a prison officer, a security officer, or a young offenders’ custodial officer, and the victim suffered bodily injury, the court must impose a sentence of at least six months imprisonment, or nine months imprisonment if the offender was armed or was in the company of one or more other persons.
An indecent assault is an assault that is inherently indecent, even if it is not sexually motivated. An assault may be indecent because of the part of the body that is touched or attempted or threatened with touching or because of the part of the body used by the offender.
This type of offence may be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court if both parties consent to this. If the case is heard in the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment and a fine of $24,000.
If either party elects to have the matter heard on indictment, then the matter will be committed to the District Court, where the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment. However, this sentence may be raised to seven years imprisonment if the offender is armed with a weapon, is in the company of one or more other persons, or if they caused any person harm, threatened to kill the victim, or did anything which is likely to degrade or humiliate the victim.
Possible defences to assault offences
A person charged with an assault offence may rely on a number of defences. For a court to find a person guilty of an assault the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused does not have a valid defence.
Section 2246 of the Criminal Code provides for the defence of provocation to be used in circumstances where an accused was provoked by the victim into committing the assault and the provocation resulted in a loss of self-control. For this defence to succeed, the assault must not have been disproportionate to the provocation and must not have been likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm.
An offender may rely on the defence of self-defence if they believed that their actions were necessary in their self-defence or in the defence of another person. For this defence to succeed, the offender must have believed the assault was reasonably necessary in the circumstances as they perceived them and if the offender’s actions can be considered reasonable in the circumstances.
An assault charge can also be defended on the basis that the offender was acting under duress when they committed the offence.
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