Assault and Battery Under Torts| Notes on Law of Torts
Trespass to person :
Assault and Battery are two forms of Trespass to person. Battery is the intentional application of force to another person. Assault is an action of the defendant which causes to the plaintiff a reasonable apprehension of the infliction of a battery on him by the defendant. (Winfield)
To throw water at a person is assault. It is battery if a drop falls on him. Pulling away the chair when a person is about to sit is assault. It becomes battery when he touches the ground. Similarly, flashing light with a mirror is assault. It is battery when the rays impinge on the plaintiff.
The word force has a defined scope in the context of assault and battery ; infliction of light, heat, electricity, gas, odour and similar things which may be applied to such a degree as to cause injury or personal discomfort, amounts to force as required in battery. As Chief justice Holt, rightly said the least touching of another in anger is battery (Cole V. Turner). Hence spitting a man on his face is assault, but, if any drops fall on him, it is battery.
- Pointing a loaded pistol is assault. Pointing an unloaded pistol is no assault. In V. St. George, it was held that pointing an unloaded pistol at dangerously close quarters was assault. There was a reasonable apprehension of the impact of the gun. Hence it was assault.
- In Stephens V. Myers : P as Chairman, was in a meeting. D, a member became angry and vociferous. Resolution was passed
- To remove him from the meeting. Thereupon D moved with closed first towards the Chairman, but was stopped by a person who was sitting next to D. Held that there was assault. When a person standing on a Railway platform shows his fist to the plaintiff who is in moving train, there is no assault.
Awakening a pupil in a class-room by another student while the class is going on, is battery. But if the teacher wakes him up there is no battery.
Similarly in the case of sermons, to touch a person with the least force, to call attention, is no battery, if this is done by the Bishop.
There are hundreds of instances of assault and battery in the day to day affairs of human beings. But because of the good humour of mankind they do not go to the Courts. Perhaps the other reason is De minimis non-curet lex meaning law does not take cognisance of trifles.
For assault and Battery the following are the defences open to the defendant.
- Self Defence : This is a natural right recognised by law. A person may defend his person, his family or his property from any trespass. Of course, the physical defence must be proportionate to the injury received. Similarly, a person may inflict injury to defend his property.
- Right to Expulsion : The defendant is entitled to forcibly expel the trespasser who enters by force or otherwise without permission. Of course, the defendant should not use more force than what is necessary.
- Right to retake property : Use of force as is ‘necessary’ under the circumstances is valid and law allows the retaining of the land or goods using force
- Volenti non fit injuria : In lawful games like cricket, football, boxing etc.. any injury received is covered under volenti non fit injuria. This is a good defence to the defendant.
- Legal Arrest or search : Under the law the police officer is empowered to arrest a person or search a premises and in such a circumstance, he may use so much of the force as is necessary according to law.
- Force used under authority : Parents, guardians, supervisors of trainees, captain of ship etc. have some inherent rights to “correct” the persons under their control. Such persons may validly defend themselves, provided the force used was reasonable and necessary.