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R v Chan Fook [1994] 1 WLR 689

S.47, Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – Actual Bodily Harm - Psychological Harm

Facts

The appellant, Mr Chan-Fook, had accused the victim, a lodger, of the theft of his fiancé’s engagement ring. The appellant, after striking the victim several times, locked him in a second-floor bedroom. The victim tried to escape and suffered quite serious injuries. The appellant was convicted under s.47 OAPA of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Curiously, however, the harm identified by the prosecution was the psychological suffering of the victim, rather than his physical injuries, although no medical evidence was produced. The trial judge directed the jury that an assault which induced a ‘nervous and hysterical’ reaction in the victim would amount to actual bodily harm. Mr Chan-Fook was convicted on this basis and leave given to appeal.

Issue

The principal issue on appeal was whether psychiatric harm could, in principle, amount to ABH for the purposes of s.47 OAPA. The Court of Appeal were also required to consider whether expert psychiatric evidence would be a necessary requirement in such cases, as well as the general meaning of actual bodily harm, which had heretofore been understood as encompassing “any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim”.

Held

In upholding the appeal, the CA confirmed that, whilst ABH could embrace recognised psychiatric harm:

“[I]t does not include mere emotions such as fear or distress nor panic nor does it include, as such, states of mind that are not themselves evidence of some identifiable clinical condition”.

Moreover, in the absence of expert medical evidence (or a concession from the defence), the question of whether an assault occasioned actual bodily harm should not be put to a jury.

The CA also confirmed that the phrase ‘actual bodily harm’ is to be given its ‘ordinary meaning’ but that the word harm implied an ‘injury’ of some sort, which need not be permanent but which:

 [M]ust not be so trivial as to be wholly insignificant” ()

This judgement therefore implies a de minimis threshold to the notion of actual bodily harm.


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