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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018

R v Ireland [1998] AC 147

Can silence suffice for a charge of assault and is psychiatric harm sufficient for ABH


The Defendant in this case consistently called three separate women over the course of three months. During each call he did not speak, but instead breathed heavily on the line. He was prosecuted and convicted for assault occasioning actual bodily harm contrary to s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 c.100, on the grounds of the psychiatric injury suffered by the victims. The Defendant appealed his conviction and argued that silence cannot amount to assault and further that psychiatric harm was not actual bodily harm.


The issue in this was whether silence could amount to assault occasioning actual bodily harm for the purposes of s.47 OAPA 1861. Further, whether psychiatric injury can amount to ABH under the same provision.


The court held in the affirmative that silence causing psychiatric injury could constitute assault occasioning ABH under s.47 OAPA 1861. Silence could act as a threat where it was done in a way which could induce fear in the victim; where the victim is afraid that the threat will be acted on in the near future, this could amount to an assault. Proximity of the Defendant to the victims is irrelevant to this determination as fear could be induced equally easily over the telephone as in person. It was held by the court that repeated phone calls of this nature could be expected to cause a victim to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.

“the proposition… that words cannot suffice is unrealistic and indefensible.. (the phone caller) intends his silence to cause fear and intimidation.” (Lord Steyn)

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