7.2 Trespass to the Person, Land and Goods Lecture

Trespass to the Person


This simply involves the intentional and direct application of force to another person. There are some requisite elements:

  • The force should be directly applied. Indirect can still fulfil the requirement, Pursell v Horn [1838].
  • Whilst injury is not a prerequisite, the courts will distinguish between hostile and unhostile , Cole v Turner [1704].

Defences are as below for assault.


This refers to situations in which an individual ‘causes another person to apprehend the infliction of immediate, unlawful force on his person,’ Collins v Wilcock [1984]. There a few requisite elements:

  • Assault is based around communication, and so it does not solely involve physical indications of violence. Silence may be an assault, R v Ireland [1998]. Intention to communicate in this way is the necessary component here.
  • The fear of the victim must be reasonable, which is to be judged by reference to the facts available to the victim at the time of the assault, rather than the objective reality of the situation, R v St George [1840].

Defences to Battery and Assault

  • Those with lawful authority, such as the police under PACE 1984, or medical professionals under the Mental Health Act 1983. They will still have to act reasonably, Collins v Wilcock [1984].
  • Self-defence is a defence to liability, where it is no more than necessary to repel a threat, Revill v Newbury [1996].
  • Parents may use physical force to chastise a child, though it must be proportional to the behaviour and the child must understand the purpose of the punishment, A v UK [1998].
  • Consent or contributory negligence will form absolute or partial defences. There is a limit to the bounds of consent, R v Brown [1993].

False Imprisonment

This is restraint without lawful authorisation. The victim does not even need to be aware they are being falsely imprisoned, Murray v Ministry of Defence [1988].

The key element is that there must be a total loss of freedom; liability will not arise in situations where the victim is merely prevented from proceeding in a particular direction, Bird v Jones [1845].


  • Consent or contributory negligence.

Wilkinson v Downton and Indirect Trespass

This case provides the tort of communicating information designed and intended to harm the wellbeing of an individual. There must be actual harm, intention and conduct of such a degree or nature that it was intended to cause the harm, Wong v Parkside NHS Trust [2001].


The tort of harassment has a statutory definition under the Harassment Act 1997. It has three elements mentioned in section 1;

  1. A course of conduct, which means two or more occasions;
  1. That amounts to harassment, by which it cases alarm or distress (a subjective judgment); and
  1. And the defendant knows (or ought to know) that it amounts to harassment.

Trespass to Land

Unjustified interference with the possession of land will constitute trespass. There are four elements required:

  • There must be some direct interference – so some purposiveness to the interference, though it need not be particularly egregious, Gregory v Piper [1829];
  • The interference must be voluntary;
  • No harm is required.

There are further rules of trespass. Land is given its property law definition, see Bernstein v Skyviews and General [1978]. Only those with exclusive possession of land can sue for trespass. Trespass will occur ab initio, The Six Carpenters Case [1572].

Trespass to Goods

This is covered in the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. The required elements are:

  • Harm is generally not necessary, unless the interference is done unknowingly, Everitt v Martin [1953].

A possessor, rather than owner, may bring an action for trespass.

Defences for trespass to land and goods under PACE 1984 and of consent and contributory negligence are available.

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