What is Common Assault? An Introduction & Sentencing Guidelines

If you’ve been accused of common assault, having experts guiding you through any legal process is always the answer to a smoother experience and a more positive outcome. DPP Law’s team are experts in navigating common assault sentencing guidelines and will be the support you need to relieve stress.

They can explain everything you need to know, including what is common assault and the different sentencing guidelines depending on the type of assault.

What is Common Assault?

Common Assault is an offence under English Common Law, and it is the most basic form of assault. Unlike GBH or ABH, which is covered under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, this type of assault was established under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 – hence its alternative name of a section 39 assault.

Common Assault occurs when one person intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend the use of unlawful force or violence.

What is the Sentence for Common Assault?

When sentencing an individual, Parliament has set the maximum penalty for any offence. Parliament can also create guidelines for the minimum offence too. When a court decides on the appropriate sentence they must follow these guidelines – otherwise, the sentence would be unlawful.

Ultimately, the sentence for assault depends on the type of offence. The maximum sentence for common assault is six months in custody.

How is Sentencing Determined for Common Assault?

When working out what sentence to give someone convicted of a common assault offence, the court will assess the harm that has come about as a result of the offence and the culpability of the convicted.  

The court defines harm as an assessment of the damage caused to the victim by the assault. The court takes into account the amount of and severity of the injuries inflicted upon the victim and whether the assault was sustained or repeated. 

Meanwhile, culpability is a measurement of how responsible the offender was in the assault based on a number of mitigating factors. It considers whether the assault was premeditated or motivated by things like the victim’s race, disability, sexual or gender identity. 

If the crime was found to be premeditated based on those factors, it is very likely that the offender will face a tougher sentence. The Crown Prosecution Service reports that in 79% of convictions with a hate crime element, the abiding judge passed an increased sentence because of that element. 

Other factors that could potentially increase the severity of the imposed sentence include:

  • use of a weapon – for example, a glass bottle 
  • targeting a vulnerable victim – for example, an elderly person
  • the assault was committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • the assault involved an abuse of power or took advantage of a position of trust

However, it’s important to remember that whilst there are several factors that may increase the sentence, there are also other factors that may mitigate that sentence, too. These mitigating factors include:

  • the assault consisted only of a single blow 
  • the assault was an isolated incident and not a part of a wider pattern of violence
  • the offender:
    • has shown remorse since the incident
    • is of good moral character
    • has a serious medical condition
    • lacks maturity or has a mental disorder or learning disability
    • is the sole or primary carer for dependent relatives

Likewise, if the defendant pleads guilty, they will receive a reduced sentence. This is known as the Reduction in Sentence Credit. There are many variables that go into the amount of credit a guilty plea will receive, including when the guilty plea was pled; however, in most cases, these can range from one-third to one-twentieth reduction.

The Different Types of Common Assault and Sentencing

These guidelines can change if you have been accused of a more specific form of common assault. For example, if the assault is racially or religiously aggravated, the maximum sentence is two years in custody. In this next section, we’ll quickly go over some situations where the specific situations surrounding the offences of common assault can change the final sentence.

Assault by Beating

Assault by beating is a different term, but often those found guilty of the crime are sentenced following the guidelines of common assault. This is because battery is often when unlawful force has been applied, which coincides with assault by beating.

This doesn’t mean that the victim had to have experienced physical contact, so if they did not suffer any injury, it would fall under common assault and the appropriate sentencing guidelines would be followed.

Assault on an Emergency Worker

If the accused is found to have committed an assault on an emergency worker, such as a paramedic or police officer, the sentencing must follow the guidance from the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. If the assault is against an emergency worker, the maximum sentence is one year’s custody.

Caution for Common assault

Not all common assault allegations end in the sentencing of time in custody, and if fitting, the police may decide that cautioning is the best option for you if you’ve been accused of common assault.

Common Assault: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Common Assault Serious?

Whilst common assault is considered the least serious form of assault – especially compared to Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) or Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) – it should nonetheless be considered a serious charge.

Not only does this crime carry a potential custodial sentence, but any kind of guilty verdict can also rapidly transform your life – keeping you from certain jobs or travelling to certain countries. As such, you must have adequate representation throughout the investigation and trial.

What is the Difference Between Assault and Common Assault?

Assault and common assault can easily be distinguished based on the outcome of the crime committed. To find an alleged defendant guilty of assault, the court must determine that the victim experienced a degree of notable injury. However, this type of assault does not require an injury to have occurred to the victim – only the threat of injury or violence.

What Does the Prosecution have to Prove to Establish Common Assault?

If you’ve been accused of committing common assault, the prosecution must prove that the assault was intended to cause fear and apprehension in the mind of the victim.

What Defence is there Against a Charge of Common Assault?

There are several defences available to you, and the DPP Law team are experts in ensuring your defence is solid. If you’re facing a charge, you can find a defence in explaining you’re justified in using reasonable force in the circumstances to defend yourself from an unlawful assault. This self-defence angle can also be used as a defence against an assault charge.

How Long Can the Police Hold You?

Police can hold you for common assault for up to 24 hours, similar to almost any other situation. However, if it’s exceptional circumstances, the police do hold the right to hold you for a longer period, up to 36 or 96 hours.

Use DPP Law’s expertise to guide you through any legal process

With over 35 years of experience, DPP Law can advise solicitors on a variety of different issues and complexities, including:

Facing assault charges and facing court can be an incredibly distressing and traumatising experience. There are many terms, situations and clauses to understand, and it can become confusing and almost impossible to navigate without an expert.

Get in touch with DPP Law’s expert team of solicitors to make the process smoother or for further information about common assault sentencing guidelines. We can work to give you the best defence, represent you and ensure that you receive the best outcome possible.