The criminal law of assault has developed in a piecemeal manner. It is a mixture of early common law (common law assault being derived from the medieval writ of trespass), statute (mainly nineteenth-century) and more recent case law. The results can often appear illogical both in content and in terminology, and many believe that the whole area needs reform. In this chapter, we will examine the most important non-sexual assaults. Rape and sexual assault will be discussed in the next chapter.The non-sexual statutory assaults are mainly to be found in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. In the style of many nineteenth-century statutes, a large number of different offences were preserved in what was essentially a consolidating statute. The result is a collection of offences many of which are extremely specific and are rarely prosecuted, such as unlawfully and maliciously impeding a person in his endeavour to save himself or another from shipwreck, punishable with life imprisonment (s 17), or obstructing or assaulting a clergyman in the performance of his duties, punishable with two years’ imprisonment (s 36). We will concentrate on the less colourful, but more frequently used, assaults.
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- Chapter 7