Criminal Law

Assault Offences

In Western Australia, assault charges cover a variety of conduct that range in harm and severity. Different assault charges carry different penalties, ranging from financial penalties and behaviour bonds and moving all the way up to lengthy prison terms.

Being convicted of assault charges can have a profound impact on your life, which may include the inability to travel overseas, gain future employment, and in some cases face a term of imprisonment.

Your liberty and freedom are worth too much to leave to chance. If you have been charged with an incident involving assault by the Western Australian Police or the Federal Police, you need the services of an experienced assault lawyer.

Andrew Williams has offices based in Perth and Fremantle. He also represents clients in courts across Australia and in the regional areas of WA.

Contact the Law Offices of Andrew Williams for legal advice and representation in court on (08) 9278 2575.


Assault Charge Lawyer Perth WA

With over 18 years of experience, Andrew Williams has been involved in a large number of cases involving assault charges in WA courts and has achieved exceptional outcomes for his clients.

The cases managed have been wide in range and seriousness and have included common assault, assault occasioning bodily harm, assault public officer, acts likely to endanger life, grievous bodily harm, assault with intent, unlawful wounding and indecent assault.


Assault charges and violence-related offences

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What factors require consideration by a criminal lawyer for assault charges?

A multitude of factors requires careful consideration when determining the best path to resolve assault charges. The factors include matters such as:

  • any possible defences of provocation or self-defence;
  • the characteristics and personal circumstances of the victim(s) involved;
  • the nature of injuries sustained by the victim(s);
  • whether weapons are alleged to have been involved;
  • whether the assault was planned or premeditated;
  • the location of the alleged assault; and
  • the circumstances leading up to the incident.

Frequently police lay multiple assault charges that arise from the same incident.

As an experienced criminal lawyer,  Andrew Williams is well-equipped to examine these complex issues and the overall circumstances of the offending to ensure that there is no excessive charging by the police.


Types of assault offences handled by Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices

The different types of assault charges that are commonly handled by Andrew Williams include but are not limited to:

  • Common assault;
  • Aggravated assault;
  • Assault occasioning bodily harm;
  • Assault of a Public Officer
  • Grievous bodily harm;
  • Assault with intent
  • Unlawful Wounding of another
  • Indecent assault


Common Assault

In WA, common assault offences (also called unlawful assault) are dealt with in the Magistrates Court. The maximum penalty the Magistrates Court can impose is a term of imprisonment of 18 months and a fine of $18,000.

If the offence is committed in circumstances of aggravation the maximum penalty increases to a term of imprisonment of 3 years and a fine of $36,000.


Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault arises where the following circumstances existed at the time the alleged assault occurred:

  • The accused is in a domestic relationship with the victim (learn more about VROs here);
  • A child was present during the assault;
  • A restraining order was in place at the time the accused assaulted the victim;
  • The victim is aged 60 years or older; and
  • The assault was racially motivated.

The presence of any of the above circumstances at the time of offending will make the nature of that offending more serious.


What does common assault mean and what is the prosecution required to prove?

A common assault charge alleges that a person applied force to another without that person’s consent. In theory, a slight nudge or push from one person to another would constitute an assault but it is unlikely that the police would charge in these circumstances unless the push was accompanied by a degree of force or was accompanied by threats of violence.

Actions like pushing, slapping, striking and kicking are situations that often constitute the offence of common assault or unlawful assault.


Is spitting on someone Assault?

Spitting on someone can also constitute an assault and is considered a serious form of assault. It is considered serious because it gives rise to the risk of diseases being transmitted.

It is not necessary for the victim to have suffered physical contact from the actions of another for an offence of assault to be proved.

For example, spitting towards a victim may amount to an assault in circumstances where the spit does not actually connect or make contact with the victim.


What evidence is needed for proof of an assault?

In order to prove an offence of common assault the prosecution must satisfy the court beyond a reasonable doubt the following:

  • There has been an application of force from the accused to the victim;
  • That application of force was executed without the victim’s consent;
  • The application of force was done so intentionally or recklessly;
  • The assault was not justified, authorised or excused by law.


What defences can be raised against a charge of common assault?

There are several defences available to a charge of common assault. These include but are not limited to:

  • Identification;
  • Provocation;
  • Self Defence or defence of another;
  • Accident;
  • The lawful discipline of a child;
  • Extraordinary Emergency;
  • Preventing violence from occurring.

Where one of the above defences is raised during the course of a trial, the prosecution must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused’s acts were not carried out in circumstances that give rise to the defence.

If the prosecution cannot negative the defence raised, then the assault is deemed justified, authorised and excused by law and is therefore not an “unlawful” assault.


Assault Occasioning Bodily Harm

An assault occasioning bodily harm arises where, as a result of an assault by another, the victim has suffered bodily harm.  

The definition of bodily harm refers to a bodily injury that interferes with health or comfort. The pain that a victim suffers as a result of an assault may self-evidently cause discomfort. However, this will not, on its own substantiate bodily injury. An assault that does nothing more than amount to the victim suffering pain will not constitute the definition of bodily harm.


What injuries can amount to bodily harm?

Injuries that constitute bodily harm may be injuries that range from broken bones to a black eye or swelling and bruising. Even minor injuries like a minor abrasion can amount to bodily harm.


In which court is assault occasioning bodily harm determined and what are the penalties?

If the matter is determined in the Magistrates Court the offence carries a maximum penalty of a term of imprisonment of 2 years and a fine of $24,000. However, if the assault occasioning bodily harm is committed in circumstances of aggravation the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 3 years and a fine of $36,000.

An assault occasioning bodily harm charge may also be determined on an indictment in the District Court where the maximum penalty increases to 5 years imprisonment or 7 years imprisonment if the offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation.


Assault Public Officer

Under s.318 of the Code, a person can be charged with the offence of assaulting a public officer if they assault a public officer who is performing a function of their office or employment as a public officer.

A public officer includes any of the following classes of people:

  • A driver, or person operating or in charge of a rail vehicle, a ferry, a taxi; or a bus;
  • An ambulance officer who is performing their duties as an ambulance officer;
  • A person who is performing duties as either a: Fire and Emergency Services officer, a State Emergency Services officer, a Volunteer Marine Rescue Service officer, or a member of a private or volunteer fire brigade;
  • A person who is working in a hospital;
  • A person who is providing a health service to the public;
  • A contract worker who is providing court security services or custodial services; or
  • A contract worker within the meaning of the Prisons Act 1981 (WA) who is performing functions under Part IIIA of that Act.

To prove the charge of assault public officer the prosecution is not required to prove that the victim suffered “bodily harm” or “grievous bodily harm”.

If assault by a public officer is committed in “prescribed circumstances”, mandatory sentencing laws will apply and the court must impose a sentence of immediate imprisonment. 

“Prescribed circumstances” occur when a public officer is assaulted in circumstances where they suffer bodily harm and that person is either a police officer, a prison officer, or a security officer as defined in section 3 of the Public Transport Authority Act 2003.


In which court is Assault Public Officer determined and what are the penalties?

The offence of assault of a public officer can be heard in the Magistrates Court or District Court.

If the offence of assaulting a public officer is determined in the Magistrates Court the maximum penalty for this offence is 3 years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000. If the offence is determined in the District Court, the maximum penalty increases to 7 years imprisonment.

If the offence was committed in prescribed circumstances the court must impose a term of imprisonment of 6 months and one day.


Grievous Bodily Harm

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) is defined in the Criminal Code WA as bodily injury which either:

  • endangers or is likely to endanger life or;
  • causes or is likely to cause permanent injury to health.

Grievous Bodily Harm covers a broad range of injuries which may include a broken jaw up to a serious head injury.

The references above to an injury that either “endangers or is likely to endanger life” or “is likely to cause permanent injury to health” apply whether or not the victim ultimately receives medical treatment and completely recovers with no further complications. It is not a defence to the charge to say that, following medical treatment, the injury suffered by the victim no longer endangered their life or caused permanent injury to their health.


What is the prosecution required to prove for an offence of Grievous Bodily Harm?

In order for an accused to be convicted of the offence of GBH, the prosecution must prove the following:

  • That the complainant suffered GBH;
  • That the GBH was caused by the accused;
  • That the act which caused the GBH was done unlawfully. That is, the act was not justified, authorised, or excused by law.


Grievous Bodily Harm and Causation

The prosecution need not prove that the accused intended to do GBH to the victim. A court only needs to be satisfied that the accused unlawfully caused the GBH suffered by the victim. The causation issue is sometimes a matter of dispute in a trial involving GBH.

For example, where the accused pushes the victim and the victim then falls and suffers a head injury which constitutes GBH, a jury would need to consider whether the push caused the head injury.


In which court is Grievous Bodily Harm determined and what are the penalties?

The offence of GBH cannot be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Charges of GBH are dealt with only on an indictment in the District Court. The maximum penalty for the offence is 10 years imprisonment.

Generally, sentences of immediate imprisonment are imposed for GBH offences. However, that is not always the case. There are some circumstances that will enable suspended terms of imprisonment to be imposed.

There are, in general, three matters of significance for the court in determining the seriousness of an offence of grievous bodily harm:

  1. The nature of the harm which is inflicted. Although any GBH is necessarily serious, it may range from a permanent injury with which the victim is able to cope, to a severe and life-threatening injury which occasions significant permanent disability.
  2. The nature of the act which causes harm. This may range from a single act to repeated acts of violence.
  3. The background to and circumstances of the offence. This may range from a response to a provocative act of the victim to random and senseless violence.

The factors that the courts look at in deciding whether to impose a term of immediate imprisonment for an offence of GBH include:

  • The perceived seriousness and intrinsic character of the offence;
  • Whether there was any element of persistence;
  • General deterrence;
  • Factors personal to the offender including mitigating circumstances;
  • The need to demonstrate the community’s condemnation of offences of the kind in question;
  • The prospect of rehabilitation of the offender in combination with the personal deterrence provided by the threat of activation of a suspended sentence; and
  • Any reasons militating in favour of an exercise of mercy.


What defences can be raised against a charge of Grievous Bodily Harm?

There are several defences available to the charge of GBH. These include but are not limited to:

  • Identification
  • The GBH was not caused by the actions of the accused
  • Self-defence of defence of another
  • Accident
  • Extraordinary Emergency
  • The defence of provocation is not available to a charge of GBH.


Assault With Intent

Section 317A of the Criminal Code captures the offence of Assaulting another person with the intention of either:

  • committing or facilitating the commission of a crime;
  • causing Grievous Bodily Harm to that other person; or
  • resisting or preventing the lawful arrest or detention of any person.

For the prosecution to prove the charge of assault with intent it is not required to prove that the intended result occurred.

For example, if the assault was accompanied with an intention to cause grievous bodily harm the prosecution is not required to prove that the victim suffered grievous bodily harm.

The prosecution is only required to prove that the person had the intention to cause such harm.


Examples of Assault with Intent

Examples of ways in which assault with intent can be committed can include:

  • Pulling someone out of their car with the intention to steal the car;
  • Pushing a person off their bicycle with an intention to steal the bike or;
  • Assaulting a police officer in an attempt to help another person avoid being arrested.

The charge of assault with intent will generally be heard in the Magistrates Court but the charge can also be heard in the District Court. 


In which court is Assault with Intent determined and what are the penalties?

If the offence is determined in the District Court the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 5 years. If the offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty increases to 7 years.

If the offence is determined in the Magistrates Court the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 2 years and a fine of $24,000. If the offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty increases to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000.


Unlawful Wounding

Section 301(1) of the Code provides that any person who unlawfully wounds another is guilty of a crime.


What is the prosecution required to prove for unlawful wounding?

To be found guilty of unlawful wounding, the prosecution must prove that the accused unlawfully wounded another. The intention of the accused is irrelevant in proving this offence.

There is no definition of ‘unlawful wounding’ in the Code.

An act is ‘unlawful’ where it cannot be excused, authorised or justified in accordance with the law.

A ‘wound’ has been interpreted to mean the breaking or cutting of the ‘true skin’ known as the dermis (interior layer of the skin). This means that to be convicted of a charge of unlawful wounding, breaking the epidermis (exterior layer of the skin) would not suffice.


In which court is Unlawful Wounding determined and what are the penalties?

The charge can be determined in either the Magistrates Court or the District Court. 

If the unlawful wounding is determined in the Magistrates Court maximum summary penalty is imprisonment for 2 years and a fine of $24,000. If the offence occurred in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum summary penalty is imprisonment for 3 years and a fine of $36,000.

If the unlawful wounding is determined in the District Court the maximum penalty for is a term of imprisonment of 5 years. If the offence is committed in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty for aggravated unlawful wounding is 7 years imprisonment.


Is there a defence to a charge of unlawful wounding?

There are several defences available to an offence of unlawful wounding:

Self Defence: An accused may raise self-defence where they believed on reasonable grounds that they needed to protect themselves (or a third party) from a harmful act by the victim.

Unwilled Act: There have been cases, such as Duffy v R [1981] WAR 72, where an accused has raised the defence of an unwilled act under s 23A of the Criminal Code. In Duffy the accused was charged with unlawful wounding in circumstances where he had punched the victim while there was a glass in his hand. Duffy accepted that he had struck the victim with the glass but maintained this was an unwilled act because he was unaware that he was holding a glass in his hand at the time that he stuck the victim.

Accident:  The defence of accident has a limited operation in cases of unlawful wounding. One particular case involves a situation where the accused threw a glass into the victim’s face causing serious injuries. The accused raised the defence of accident claiming that the glass had slipped from their hand and that there was no intent to harm. The defence was unsuccessful and the accused was convicted.

Provocation:  The defence of provocation is not available to an accused charged with unlawful wounding as held in Kaparonovski v R (1973) 133 CLR 209.


Sentencing for Unlawful Wounding

Although the offence of unlawful wounding is considered very serious a term of imprisonment is not always imposed. The degree of harm caused by this offence varies considerably, from conduct that causes minor lacerations to serious cases of stabbings. 

In an unlawful wounding case, the relevant considerations for the sentencing judge include (as articulated in Messaoui v R SCL 9210.1/1991):

  • the threat to life and health posed by the offender’s action; and
  • the possibility of more serious harm arising from the offender’s action.


Does Unlawful Wounding Overlap with Grievous Bodily Harm?

The definition of grievous bodily harm covers injuries that also fall within the scope of the offence of unlawful wounding, such as serious stabbings and gunshot wounds.

This overlap may give rise to a situation where the same sets of facts establish either offence under the Criminal Code. In these cases, the prosecution exercises its discretion to charge the person with the offence that it considers the most appropriate.


Circumstances where Unlawful Wounding may arise

There are a variety of circumstances in which the offence of unlawful wounding can be committed. The offence may involve a stabbing, a “glassing”, or even a gunshot wound.

Glassing incidents in the Australian nightlife scene remain a persistent issue. The act of ‘glassing’ refers to striking another person with a glass or a bottle. This act can cause serious injuries including disfigurement and blindness.

In 2019, a mother-of-three was charged with unlawful wounding after glassing another woman on the dance floor at the Duke Bar and Bistro in Carramar in 2019. The victim’s injuries required emergency plastic surgery. The accused narrowly avoided jail after the court imposed 12 months imprisonment but ordered that the term be suspended. They exercised leniency in the sentencing approach in light of the mother showing genuine remorse, engaging in counselling and being of prior good character.

The offence of unlawful wounding may also encompass gunshot wounds. In the case of Roncevic v The State of Western Australia 2012, the accused fired a shot from a handgun into the victim’s upper thigh. The accused was charged with unlawful wounding for the act and was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months imprisonment.


Unlawful Indecent Assault

A charge of indecent assault can encompass a wide range of behaviours. The charge is generally heard in the Magistrates Court but depending on the seriousness of the allegations the charge can be determined in the District Court before a judge and jury.

If the offence is determined in the District Court the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 5 years. If the offence is determined in the Magistrates Court the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 2 years.

See more information on Indecent Assault.


Contact Andrew for Legal Advice

Andrew Williams provides strong, effective and passionate legal representation to people facing assault charges in Western Australia under both federal and state criminal law.

Andrew will not judge your circumstances but will fight to get you the best outcome. He will case conference and rigorously challenge the prosecution on the burden of proof so as to avoid any criminal offences being unlawfully found proven against you.

Contact the criminal defence lawyers at Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices today. You can reach us directly on (08) 9278 2575.


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