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Sunday, 18 July 2010

Charging a battery with salt ...... that must be wrong

I used to earn a few extra pennies writing multi-choice exam questions for police promotion exams. This involved devising scenarios where hair-splitting answers could be suggested with only one being the correct. Police Officers would learn legal definitions verbatim from training school onwards so to catch the necessary 25% or more out in an inspectors exam on questions on one of the more well known definitions such assault required splitting of hairs at almost sub-atomic level. All police officers know that the legal definition of an "assault" is "A person is guilty of an assault if they intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence." Battery " is the actual application of that personal violence, e.g. a slap to the face. Thus the Sherlock Holmes type phrase rarely used these days of "assault and battery". It is therefore legally possible to have an injury free assault, that is, an assault without battery.

In the police recorded crime statistics there is a category within the violent crime section of assault without injury. Over the last 10 years about 200,000 such crimes per year have been recorded, about a third of the total assaults recorded. Now if you thought that the offence being recorded was without battery you would be wrong. Appendix A of the Home Office Counting Rules of "violent crime" that can be found here states that these offences include  "Slap, Punch, or other attack leaving no visible mark or injury or a passing moment of pain." OK fair enough you may say but in practice these include quite nasty assaults because of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charging rules and the police desire to reduce the more serious violent crime. The charge for this type of assault is "Common Assault" which because it has a maximum imprisonment of 6 months can only be heard in a Magistrates Court. Many of the injuries could fulfill the legal definition of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) but the CPS will not allow this charge unless they think the likely sentence could be over 6 months imprisonment (very rare) as this can be contested at Crown Court making the process expensive and more likely to end without conviction.

This is just one of many reasons why police recorded violent crime is not what it seems.

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