Collins v Wilcock (1984) 3 All ER 374 is an appellate case that concerns trespass to the person. Specifically, the court considered the definition of battery and the circumstances in which an individual's actions could be considered unlawful touching.
The case involved a police officer attempting to detain a woman suspected of engaging in prostitution. The officer grabbed her arm to prevent her from leaving, even though he had no legal authority to do so under the Street Offences Act 1959. The woman resisted and scratched the officer, resulting in her being charged with and convicted of assaulting a police officer in the course of his duty.
The court held that the police officer was acting beyond the scope of his powers since he had no authority to arrest the woman in that situation. Therefore, he was not acting in the course of his duty as a police officer. The conviction for assaulting a police officer was deemed unlawful. Furthermore, the court established that the officer's act of grabbing the woman's arm, without the power to make an arrest, constituted an unlawful assault or battery. The woman was therefore entitled to resist the officer's actions as an act of self-defence. Consequently, her conviction was overturned.
The court clarified the definition of battery, stating that it involves intentionally touching another person with hostile intent or beyond what is normally acceptable. It recognised that consent is generally a defence to battery, as most physical contacts in ordinary life are implicitly consented to by individuals who move in society and expose themselves to the risk of bodily contact. However, the court also acknowledged that there are exceptions to this principle and that certain physical contacts can be deemed unacceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life. The acceptability of physical contact depends on the specific circumstances of each case.
The court took the opportunity to draw a distinction among assault, battery, common assault, causing actual bodily harm and false imprisonment as follows:
- An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly harms someone indirectly.
- A battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly harms someone directly.
- An offence of Common Assault is committed when a person either assaults another person or commits a battery.
- The only distinction between common assault and causing actual bodily harm (under section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861) is the degree of injury.
- False imprisonment is unlawful imposition or constraint of another's freedom of movement from a particular place.
Overall, the case established that a police officer acting outside his legal authority cannot claim to be assaulted while attempting to arrest a person who is entitled to self-defence. It confirmed the right to resist unlawful actions and provided clarity on the definition of battery in the context of unlawful touching.
You can learn more about this topic and other case law with our Criminal Law notes.