Assault- The difference between major and minor indictable offending

There is a distinction to be made between an assault in which a victim (or an alleged victim) is occasioned no significant injuries and an assault in which the victim suffers genuine harm.

The basic offence of Assault is defined by section 20 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1945 (SA) (CLCA). An assault occurs if there is any intentional and unwanted physical force against a victim: a typical example being kicking, punching or hitting of a person.

Harm is defined by the CLCA as being either physical harm (being pain, disfigurement, unconsciousness or infection with a disease), or mental (psychological) harm.

Naturally, more serious penalties are prescribed for the offence of Assault Cause Harm. The maximum penalty prescribed for a basic offence is imprisonment for three years, four years imprisonment for an aggravated offence and five years for an offence aggravated by the use of an offensive weapon.

As will be obvious enough, much turns in relation to this offence on whether or not harm has actually or arguably been caused to a relevant victim. It is important to seek legal advice at a very early stage to seek advice and determine whether the correct charge has been laid in respect of the relevant act: it may be that the act or consequence constituting “harm” as in a particular case may be insufficient to sustain a conviction for Assault Cause Harm. In that instance, it may be appropriate to seek to negotiate with the prosecution to have the charge downgraded to one of basic Assault, in exchange for a plea of guilty.

Sentences vary widely for the offence of Assault Cause Harm and correlate directly to the severity of the harm caused to a victim: even in the case of relatively significant harm being caused to a victim (but not the infliction “serious harm”, which conduct is covered by a different set of offences), it is not at all uncommon for a defendant of good character and with minimal relevant criminal history to be sentenced to a simple bond to be off good behaviour in lieu of a prison sentence, or a bond to be of good behaviour but subject to the defendant being recalled for sentence following any breach of that bond. In suitable cases, it may be that an application can be made to the court that no conviction be recorded for the offence in question.

If you have been charged with an offence of Assault Cause Harm, it is important that you seek the advice of expert criminal lawyers as soon as you are able. Call us today for a review of your matter at no charge. For 24 hour, urgent legal advice or representation you can contact Culshaw Miller Criminal Lawyers on 0418 421 153 or by e-mail at