Collins v Wilcock (1984)

English Criminal Law

Collins v Wilcock
‘Parisian Life’ by Juan Luna

Most likely uncertain to many members of the general public, the difference between assault and battery are markedly different, as was established in a case involving a uniformed policewoman and a suspected prostitute, judged to be loitering for the purposes of unlawful solicitation.

In the summer of 1982, the now respondent was driving in her patrol car when herself and her colleague observed what appeared to be two prostitutes standing around in the street whilst conversing with two men for what was determined to be a negotiation of solicitation, upon which the respondent requested that the now appellant enter the car so they could question her, to which the appellant lawfully refused and proceeded to walk away.

It was at this point that the respondent left the vehicle and attempted to question the appellant again while in pursuit, to which the appellant told her unceremoniously to ‘fuck off’, a statement that caused the respondent to physically grab the appellant by the forearm so as to restrain her from walking further, and which in turn resulted in the appellant shouting again ‘just fuck off copper’ and scratching the respondent’s forearm with her fingernails; an action that led to the appellant’s arrest and subsequent charge of assaulting a police officer in the line of duty.

Having contended the offence before the then Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate presiding in the Marylebone office, London, the appellant argued that the respondent was at the time of her physical exertion, acting beyond the scope of her police powers, while the respondent countered that she had acted lawfully under the Street Offences Act 1959, in which s. 1(1) which read that:

“It shall be an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution.”

And s. 3, which further reads that:

“A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section.”

To which the magistrate held the appellant guilty of the offence of assault, and fined her £50 under s. 51(1) of the Police Act 1964 while holding that:

“[I]n the circumstances the placing of her hand on [the defendant’s] arm to restrain her from moving away, yet again, was within her duty and was not unreasonable.”

A decision which the appellant challenged in the High Court, holding as before that the respondent had acted unlawfully when attempting to deny the appellant her freedom to leave when questioned.

Here, the court first looked to Cole v Turner, in which the Court of the Kings Bench had held that:

“The least touching of another is battery.”

Which was a principle later expanded upon in William Blackstone’s ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’ (1830), in which it was stated clearly that:

“[T]he law cannot draw the line between different degrees of violence, and therefore totally prohibits the first and lowest stage of it; every man’s person being scared, and no other having a right to meddle with it, in any the slightest manner.”

And so noting that assault is an act that causes another person to ‘apprehend the infliction of immediate unlawful force’ upon them, battery requires the ‘actual infliction of unlawful force’, and so on this occasion the court held that when attempting to restrain the appellant, the respondent had acted outside her official powers when there had in that instance, been no grounds for any arrest, but instead the subjective compulsion to prevent the appellant from exercising her civil rights through the use of battery, thus the appeal was upheld, while the court held that:

“[E]verybody is protected not only against physical injury but against any form of physical molestation” 

And that: 

“[R]easonable force may be used in self-defence or for the prevention of crime.”

Criminal Law Terminology

Insight | February 2017

Criminal Law Terminology
Image: ‘Empty Kingdom’ by Sean Phillips

A crime can be defined both as any wrongful act causing harm to another person, or damage to another’s property, and any act that contravenes those proscribed by common law or statute. Similarly, criminal acts are actions requiring either rehabilitation of the offender and compensation for damages to property, or the victim’s psychological state,  which can also include incarceration in more serious cases (this can also be observed from a moral perspective inasmuch as actions that violate the rights and duties owed to the community), while the perception of criminal behaviour is also subject to various political and social factors, therefore can vary across nations.

A criminal definition is necessary in order to help distinguish a moral wrong from a civil wrong, and so criminal activity tends to be associated with some element of punishment when bought to trial, whereas a civil wrong is not considered an act of deviance, but a conflict of perspectives or contractual obligations.

The purpose of criminal law is to distinguish between the two previously mentioned wrongs, in order to help protect the public and the State from acts of aggression, or violent rebuttal; while the objectives of criminal sentencing are to allow an individual the opportunity to reflect upon any criminal act undertaken, and to help the public observe justice being done when miscarriages occur. In addition, the larger aim of sentencing is to maintain public order and minimise anxiety that could adversely affect productivity, and to help reduce crime through deviant punishment and protection of the public. Shown below are some common phrases used within criminal law:

Thin Skull Rule

This phrase means that despite any unforeseen vulnerabilities in a victim being bought to light during trial (or at case preparation stage), the amount of punishment or (tortious) compensation would remain as full as it would be should, or had, the victims been ‘normal’. An excellent case for this is R v Hayward, where the victim to a brutal domestic beating died of natural causes, yet the offender was held criminally liable.

Act of God (or Naturally Occurring Interventions)

These would constitute naturally occurring disasters such as floods, storms, bolts of lightening etc. that prevent criminal liability being placed upon a person.

Third-Party Interventions

Typically a lawsuit procedure, where the court allows a third person not originally part of the case, to become involved through joining either the plaintiff or defendant.

Medical Interventions

A phrase used to describe a medical procedure serving as an intervening act, which could break the chain of causality when establishing the cause of a victim’s death or serious injury. A case reference for this would be R v Smith, which involved the dropping of an injured solider on the way to hospital, an act alleged to have contributed to his death.

Breaking the Chain of Causation

A process whereby the manifestation of a victim’s actions or moral beliefs, exacerbate the wounding (and in some cases instigation of a death). A useful case for this is R v Blaue, where a Jehova’s witness refused a blood transfusion after being stabbed, thereby legally dying as a result of blood loss, instead of knife inflicted wounds.

Defendants Conduct Culpable

A term used where a defendant engages in set of behaviours or actions, that in and of themselves, bring harm to them, without the actions or inactions of another. In this scenario, a person or defendant cannot readily portray themselves as a victim, rather lacking mental capacity or sound mind and judgment. A case example would be R v Williams, where the victim was killed by stepping in front of a moving vehicle driven by an uninsured and unqualified driver, resulting in their criminal liability.

Actus Reus

The part of a crime that is concerned with identifying the conduct that criminal law deems harmful. It also describes what the defendant must be proven to have done (or failed to do) in circumstances that produce consequences attributable to moral guilt. The case of R v Miller provides that when waking up drunk to find his lit cigarette had started a fire in the home in which he was staying, the defendant simply moved rooms, rather than attempting to extinguish the fire; translating that his actions resulted in an act of arson.

Mens Rea

A term used to describe the element in a criminal offence relating to the defendant’s mental state. Examples of mens rea include intention, recklessness, negligence, dishonesty or knowledge. This legal principle plays a crucial role in ensuring that only blameworthy defendants are punished for their crimes, however, mens rea is not equivalent to moral guilt. A useful case example is Collins v Wilcockwhere it was found that when attempting to question a member of the public, a police officer grabbed their arm with the aim of physically restraining and harming them, as opposed to getting their attention.

Intention

How a defendant determines a consequence of his actions when he acts with the aim, or purpose, of producing that consequence. The case of R v Haigh showed that while the appeal jury had clear evidence a mother had intended to smother her child, a lack of mens rea reduced the verdict from murder to manslaughter.

Recklessness

When a defendant was aware of a risk attached to their conduct, and that the risk was an unreasonable one to take. A useful case for this is R v G, where the judges held that a minor was not capable of possessing the reasoning ability of an adult.

Negligence

When a defendant has behaved in way a reasonable person would not (see also recklessness). A perhaps extreme example of this is R v Adomako, where an anaesthetist failed to observe an oxygen supply disconnection that resulted in his patient’s death.

Novus Actus Interveniens 

A term used to describe a break in the chain of causation bought about by a new action, that alters the effect of injury (or death) of a person in such a way that alters the identity of the person culpable; or a free and voluntary act of a third party, that renders the original act a substantial and operating cause of injury or death. An example of this would be R v Jordan, where a stabbing victim had a fatal allergic reaction to a hospital administered drug, therefore altering the cause of injury and subsequent death; and in R v Kennedy, where the supply of heroin did not constitute liability for a users death.