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Review the laws surrounding offences against the person

Comment 27th July 2010

A complete overhaul of the whole raft of legislation surrounding offences against the person to include strong support for those using force to prevent crime, disorder and in self defence.

At the lowest level consider removing completely the offence of common assault. This makes it an offence to bump into someone in the street and it is only the increasingly rare practice of common sense that prevents someone being prosecuted for a rugby tackle during a match or a minor squabble between school kids. Common assault is an assault where there is no injury and sometimes not even any contact between two people. People need to be more tolerant! Replace it with indictable offences of assault with a weapon, resisting arrest(sentence not to be served concurrently) and domestic assault.

In the middle we have ABH and GBH. These offences can often be very arbitray. Where similar acts can be charged very differently and the intent or possibilities are secondary. It is possible to attack someone with a sword and cause a minor cut thus being charged with ABH or common assault whilst someone else has a minor punch up often where both parties are equally to blame and the victim ends up (most often through drunkenness) falling and injuring themselves thus gaining the other party a charge of GBH. I believe that the whole raft of different offences should be condensed into one charge of assault where injury is caused and leave it for the court to decide an appropriate sentence based on all the surrounding facts.

At the top end we have Manslaughter and Murder. In my experience these work well and should remain largely unchanged though there is a strange quirk of the system where the same sentence is applied to those that commit the most serious of serial offences and those that commit their offence, for example, after extreme provocation and present little ongoing risk.

This review needs to clear up the ambiguity surrounding the lawful use of force and apply strong safeguards to those who find themselves using force because they felt they had to in order to prevent crime, disorder and make arrests. There should be a strong bias against prosecuting such people even if they are mistaken. This should apply to the Police and other members of the public and should reflect the fact that people have to react quickly, on instinct, and don't have the time to weigh up the pros and cons.

Finally offences involving violence should be fast tracked through the court system as they pose the stongest threat to our society with the highest risk offenders.

Why does this matter?

The laws surrounding assaults and self defence have built up over the years and never really been looked at. Police are often relied upon to use their common sense when dealing with these situations and not given the backing they deserve if they feel an offence is trivial.

Members of the public and occasionally officers are prosecuted for doing what they believed right at the time. Criminals often attmpt to muddy the waters around their offence by claiming that excessive force was used during their arrest – even when they have absolutely no injury! This leads to serious crimes going unpunished and decent law abiding folk who are trying to do their duty to each other spending agonising months awaiting trial.

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