Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person

The Non-Fatal Offence against the  Person Act 1997 modernise law in relation to non-fatal offences against a person.  Many common law crimes were abolished and replaced with statutory crimes.

The elements of the respective crimes are now defined by the statute. The common law immunity for parents, teachers and other persons in loco parentis to use reasonable chastisement was abolished.

Requirements for Assault

Assault must generally comprise an act.  An omission will not generally suffice.  Even if a person accidentally causes a state of affairs, an omission to correct it, does not deem the original application of force to be an assault.

The basic offence of assault is committed where a person without lawful excuse intentionally or recklessly causes another to believe on reasonable grounds, that he or she is likely immediately to be subject directly or indirectly to a force or impact without consent.

Generally, words are not sufficient to constitute assault.  However, words, accompanied by some gestures and action may be sufficient. Words may negate an intention to assault. A person by his words may undo the effect of apparently threatening and menacing behaviour.

The modern view appears to be that assault may be committed by words alone.  There should be a means or apparent means of carrying out the assault.

Ordinary Assault

A person is guilty of assault if he without lawful excuse intentionally or recklessly-

  • directly or indirectly applies forces to or causes an impact on the body of another or causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that he or she is likely immediately to be subjected to any such force or impact
  • without the consent of the other.

The person must intend the assault or be reckless (i.e. avert to an obvious risk but ignore it) as to whether the assault takes place.

Assault can be direct or indirect. Force includes the application of heat, light, noise, electricity or another form of energy or anything in solid, liquid or gaseous form. An impact involves an action that causes force to be applied to the body of another.

Criminal assault is effectively an amalgam of the civil law of assault and battery. The civil wrong (tort) of assault requires the apprehension of a battery.

Simple assault is the equivalent of the civil wrong (tort) of battery. It committed by the application of the slightest amount of force. It can be committed by without the person concerned being aware. Touching the body includes touching clothes.

Assault without Physical Impact

The second form of assault is equivalent to the civil wrong of assault. The person must apprehend the immediate infliction of force or impact. In respect of this type of assault, the person must apprehend a possible contact. It does not matter whether the person fears the contact. The question is whether he or she consents. It must be reasonable for the person to apprehend the touching or impact.

The apprehension must be immediate. It must be apprehended within a reasonably short time. General threats made, for example, remotely would not be generally sufficient. An immediate impact of force is required.

Words by themselves may be enough to constitute an assault. A threat may be made which would make a reasonable person fear an immediate physical impact. Actions and gestures may be enough, provided that objectively, they create an apprehension of immediate violence.

Technically any contact without consent constitutes an assault. However, there is some degree of deemed consent to contact, for example, in a crowd or similar other everyday situations. In effect, the consent of others is implied.

The legislation provides that no offence is committed if force or impact not being intended or likely to cause injury, is in the circumstances such as is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life and the defendant does not know or believe that it is, in fact, unacceptable to the other persons.

Assault Causing Harm

The offence of assault causing harm is committed when a person assaults another causing him or her harm.  There is no requirement of intention or recklessness, as in the case of simple assault. Harm includes any harm to the body or mind.  It includes pain and unconsciousness.

In order to be guilty of assault causing harm,  the person must be guilty of ordinary assault and harm as defined in the legislation must have occurred.

Aggravated assault is assault causing harm. It can be prosecuted summarily or on indictment. On summary trial, the maximum penalty is €1,905 or 12 months imprisonment or both. On conviction on indictment, the maximum penalty is fine or  5 years’ imprisonment.

This offence replaced the older offence of assault causing bodily harm under the  Offences Against the Person Act 1861.  Cases under that Act illuminate the meaning of harm.  Harm includes most hurts or injuries which interfere with health and comfort.

Assault Causing Serious Harm

Assault causing serious harm is a separate offence. As with simple assault evidence of intention or recklessness is required. The penalty on conviction is a fine or imprisonment for any term up to life.

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly cause serious harm to another.  Unlike the previous species of assault, intention or recklessness is required.  This offence replaced offences under the Offences Against a Person Act of wounding with intent and unlawful wounding.

Serious harm and injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which cause serious disfigurement or substantial loss or impairment of the mobility of the body as a whole or of the function of any particular bodily member or organs.  The harm need not be permanent or have serious long-term consequences.

The offence may be constituted where persons indirectly cause others to suffer injury. Examples include where panic is caused in a closed place or when a person is threatened in such a way as to injure himself while escaping for example, by jumping out of a window.

An assault causing harm requires proof of an assault and harm to the mind or body. This includes pain and unconsciousness. Serious harm is an injury that causes a substantial risk of death, serious disfigurement, substantial loss or impairment of the body’s mobility as a whole or substantial loss or impairment of a function of any organ or body member.

A person may only consent if he or she has the mental capacity to do so. The victim may consent to the infliction of some degree of harm. However, the absence of consent is not an element in respect of the offence of assault causing serious harm. There may be some exceptions where it may be possible to have a defence to the infliction of serious harm, for example, in the course of boxing or sports.


Force may be applied directly or indirectly.  The direct application of force would include immediate personally inflicted violence.  It would also include setting a dangerous animal or some other direct act that causes an immediate personal impact.

Indirect assault embraces a range of possibilities. It may arise from something some considerable time before the relevant event. It may for example, involve setting a dangerous device.

Force refers to any physical force but also includes heat, light, electric current noise or another form of energy or the application of something in solid,liquid or gaseous form.

No offence is committed if the force of impact is not intended or likely to cause injury and is in the circumstances such as is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life and the defendant does not know or believe that it is, in fact, unacceptable to the other person.

Stabbing with Threatening Syringe

It is an offence to injure or threaten to injure another person by piercing their skin with a syringe with either the intent of causing to believe that they may have been infected with a disease or where there is a likelihood of causing such a belief.

The maximum punishment a fine, 10 years imprisonment or both. The act must be intentional or reckless regarding the stabbing or threat to stab.

It is an offence to spray, pour or put blood or blood-like substances on another person or threaten to do so with the intention of causing a belief of infection in the victim or where there is a likelihood of causing such a belief.

It is an offence to injure another person by intentionally piercing his or her skin with a contaminated syringe or intentionally spray, pour, or put contaminated blood onto another person or to do either to a third party while committing or attempting to commit this offence. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

A contaminated syringe is one containing contaminated blood or fluid. This is blood containing any disease, virus agent or organism that could be life-threatening or potentially life-threatening to another in his bloodstream.

It is an offence to possess a syringe in a public place or blood container with intent to cause or threaten to cause an injury to or intimidate another person.

It is an offence to place or abandon a syringe in a public place in a manner likely to injure another person or which does, in fact, injure a person or where it is likely to injure cause or threat or frighten another person.

Cause to Take Substance

It is an offence, intentionally or recklessly to administer or cause another person without that person’s consent. to take a substance that is known to be capable of substantially interfering with that person’s bodily function.  It is not necessary that the substance be a poison but only that it is capable of substantially interfering with bodily functions. It need not be shown that it actually interferes with bodily functions.

The person must know that the other does not consent to what is being done. He or she must intentionally or recklessly administer to or cause to be taken by another a substance which he or she knows to be capable of interfering substantially with the other’s bodily functions. A substance capable of inducing unconsciousness or sleep is capable of interfering substantially with bodily functions.

A person guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €1,905 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both.

Threat to Kill or Cause Serious Injury

It is an offence to threaten to kill or cause serious harm to any person and to communicate the threat by any means to any person, whether the person is threatened or not provided that the accused intended that the recipient believe the threat.

A person guilty of this offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €1,905 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both.

• It is an offence to do any of the following without lawful authority in order to compel a person to refrain from doing something he or she is legally entitled to do or to do something which he or she is legally entitled not to do.
• use violence or intimidation to that person or his or her family
• injuring or damaging his or her property
• persistently following him or her from place to place
• watching or possessing his or her place of residence or business or the approaches thereto or any other place where that person happens to be or
• following him or her with others in a disorderly fashion

Property includes money or animals or other things.


Important Notice! This website is provided for informational purposes only! It is a fundamental condition of the use of this website that no liability is accepted for any loss or damage caused by reason of any error, omission, or misstatement in its contents. 

Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *