Concentrate Criminal Law (2020 7 edn) pp 52-53.

The most common mistakes students make when explaining or applying the law on technical assault are:

  • confusing fear with apprehension (see ‘The main issues’, above);
  • confusing an immediate apprehension with an apprehension of immediate harm, so:

– if V says ‘I now expect to be hit tomorrow’, there is no technical assault (even if V is very afraid of the future harm), but

– if V says ‘I expect now to be hit now, but I am not afraid’, the actus reus of a technical assault is satisfied. Do not forget to consider if D satisfies the mens rea too;

– if V says ‘I am not sure when I will be hit: it may be tomorrow or it might be now’ that can be an assault according to Constanza [1997] because the victim fears they might be hit in the immediate future.

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.

I refer to red underlines in blue box.

  1. Why "not enough to show that as a result of the defendant's actions[,] the victim immediately feared that he or she might be harmed a long in the future"?

  2. "In other words", why "imminent fear of harm in the future" not assault? I can't distinguish between "fear of imminent harm" (green) v. "imminent fear of harm in the future" (red).

  • wdym why? the lawmakers wanted it this way
    – MWB
    Aug 8 '20 at 22:44
  • @MaxB why did the lawmakers want it this way? i think i'm asking about Legislative Intent.
    – user89
    Aug 9 '20 at 4:57
  • I suppose it's because otherwise, you have a chance to call the cops and let them handle it. So intimidation is a lesser crime than assault
    – MWB
    Aug 14 '20 at 7:33

Assault is defined as "putting someone in fear of imminent harm".

Imminent means "about to happen".

  • "fear of imminent harm" means the harm is about to happen (very soon)

  • "fear of harm in the future" means the harm might happen later

  • "imminent fear of harm in the future" is probably a usage mistake, but might technically happen if you are about to feel the fear.

  • thanks. did you answer my questions 1 and 2 please? i think you answered just part of question 2.
    – user89
    Aug 14 '20 at 3:24

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