1

Herring, Criminal Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (8 edn, 2018). p. 75

What does ‘imminent’ mean?

The victim’s apprehension must be of imminent harm. It is well established that a threat to be violent in the distant future (e.g. ‘I will beat you up next week’) is not an assault.13 But what about a threat to cause violence in the near future? Lord Steyn in Ireland indicated that a fear of violence ‘within a minute or two’ might be sufficient to constitute an assault.14 This leaves open the question of exactly where the line is to be drawn: is fear of violence in ten minutes enough, an hour, a day? We can know only when we have further guidance from the courts.

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13 But there are some specific offences that relate to threats to harm in the future, e.g. there is an offence of threatening to kill in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, s. 16. 14 See also Smith v Superintendent of Woking Police Station (1983) 76 Cr App R 234.

This doesn't feel like common sense to me. Intuitively why not?

  1. 'next week' feels pretty soon.

  2. And many people would doubtless apprehend "imminent harm", and feel assault, if someone threatened to beat him/her up next week.

  3. And why qualify harm with "imminent"? Doesn't "imminent" fall short of criminalizing future violence and of safeguarding victims? If threatened to be beaten up 80 years or on my deathbed, I'd still apprehend "harm" now, though it's doubtless NOT "imminent. But why not criminalize such threats still?

4

The quote doesn’t say they are lawful: just that they aren’t assault

Indeed, it specifically says:

But there are some specific offences that relate to threats to harm in the future, e.g. there is an offence of threatening to kill in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Assault is defined as putting someone in fear of imminent harm. Issuing threats of a more distant kind is a different crime.

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