Define: Attempt To Assault

Attempt To Assault
Attempt To Assault
Quick Summary of Attempt To Assault

An attempt to assault occurs when an individual endeavours to physically harm another person but is prevented from executing the attack. This is commonly referred to as an attempted assault. For instance, if someone tries to strike another person but fails to make contact or is halted before doing so, it is deemed an attempt to assault. Attempted assault is a criminal offence and can be subject to legal consequences. Despite the unsuccessful nature of the attack, the intention to cause harm remains, which can instill fear and inflict harm on the victim.

What is the dictionary definition of Attempt To Assault?
Dictionary Definition of Attempt To Assault

An act of trying to harm someone is referred to as an attempt to assault. Assault occurs when an individual threatens or makes an effort to harm another person, instilling fear of physical harm. If someone endeavours to harm another person but fails to do so, it is classified as an attempted assault. In certain cases, assault can be more severe if a weapon is involved or if the person has the intention to commit another criminal act. Assault can be considered both a crime and a tort, meaning it can be subject to legal punishment or result in a lawsuit. Sexual assault, on the other hand, encompasses unwanted sexual contact or intercourse.

Full Definition Of Attempt To Assault

Attempted assault is a criminal offence under English law, distinct from the full offence of assault. While assault involves the actual application of force or the infliction of fear of immediate violence, an attempt to assault encompasses actions that fall short of completing the offence. This overview will explore the legal definition, elements, and judicial interpretation of attempted assault, as well as examine relevant case law and the applicable statutory framework.

Legal Definition

An attempt to assault is classified under the broader legal concept of ‘attempts’ within criminal law. The statutory basis for the offence of attempt is found in the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, which states that if, with intent to commit an offence, a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence, they are guilty of attempting to commit the offence. Attempted assault, therefore, involves an intention to assault and an act that is more than preparatory towards committing that assault.

Elements of Attempted Assault

  1. Intention: The primary element of attempted assault is the intention to commit the assault. The defendant must have a specific intent to cause harm or create fear of immediate unlawful violence. Unlike assault, where recklessness might suffice, an attempt requires a higher threshold of mens rea (mental state).
  2. Actus Reus: The actus reus (physical element) of attempted assault requires an act that is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the assault. The act must be a direct movement towards the commission of the offence after the preparations are made. This distinguishes an attempt from mere preparation, which is not criminally punishable.
  3. More Than Merely Preparatory: The courts have interpreted “more than merely preparatory” to mean that the defendant’s actions must reach a point where they have crossed the threshold of preparation and embarked on the actual commission of the offence. This is a fact-specific determination, often guided by judicial precedents.

Judicial Interpretation

The interpretation of what constitutes “more than merely preparatory” has been subject to extensive judicial scrutiny. Several key cases have shaped the understanding of this element in English law.

Case Law

  1. R v. Geddes (1996): In this case, the defendant was found in a school with a knife, rope, and masking tape but had not yet confronted any students. The Court of Appeal held that Geddes’ actions were merely preparatory and not sufficient to constitute an attempt. This case established that there must be proximity to the commission of the offence.
  2. R v. Tosti and White (1997): The defendants were found examining the padlock of a barn with cutting equipment hidden nearby. The court held that their actions were more than merely preparatory, as they had moved from preparation to the execution stage, thereby constituting an attempt.
  3. R v. Jones (1990): In this case, the defendant pointed a loaded gun at the victim but did not fire. The court concluded that this act was more than merely preparatory, as the defendant had gone beyond preparation and had begun the commission of the offence.

Statutory Framework

The Criminal Attempts Act 1981 is the cornerstone of the statutory framework governing attempted offences in English law. Section 1 of the Act specifies the elements of an attempt, while subsequent sections address related procedural and definitional matters.

Section 1(1)

Section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 provides:

“If, with intent to commit an offence to which this section applies, a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence, he is guilty of attempting to commit the offence.”

This provision lays the foundation for understanding and prosecuting attempted assault by establishing the necessity of intent and an act that goes beyond mere preparation.

Section 1(2)

Section 1(2) excludes from the ambit of ‘attempts’ certain offences for which specific statutory provisions exist or which are not suitable for attempts, such as conspiracy or aiding and abetting. Attempted assault, however, does not fall within these exclusions and is thus governed by the general principles of attempt.

Key Concepts in Attempted Assault

  1. Mens Rea (Intent): For an attempted assault charge to hold, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the specific intent to commit the assault. This is distinct from the mental state required for a completed assault, where recklessness may suffice.
  2. Actus Reus (Conduct): The conduct must demonstrate that the defendant was attempting to commit an assault and had moved beyond mere preparation. The line between preparation and attempt is often determined by judicial interpretation on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Proximity and Preparation: The courts must ascertain whether the defendant’s actions were in close proximity to the completion of the assault. This involves examining the immediacy and directness of the defendant’s conduct towards the completion of the offence.

Examples and Analysis

Example 1: Physical Proximity

A defendant, John, waits outside a victim’s house with the intent to physically assault the victim. He puts on gloves and conceals his face with a mask. When the victim steps out, John runs towards them with his fists raised but is apprehended by the police before he can strike. Here, John’s actions are more than merely preparatory, as he has moved beyond planning and is in immediate proximity to executing the assault.

Example 2: Conditional Threats

Consider a defendant, Mary, who sends a threatening message to her colleague, stating she will assault them if they come to work the next day. Mary then waits outside the office with a weapon. Although no physical confrontation has occurred, her presence with the weapon, coupled with the specific threat, could be deemed more than merely preparatory, indicating an attempted assault.

Defences to Attempted Assault

Several defences can be raised against a charge of attempted assault, often focusing on negating one of the critical elements of the offence.

  1. Lack of Intent: The defendant may argue that there was no specific intent to commit the assault. For instance, if the defendant’s actions were misinterpreted or if there was an alternative explanation for their conduct, this could negate the requisite mens rea.
  2. Actions Were Merely Preparatory: The defence may argue that the defendant’s actions did not surpass mere preparation. This involves demonstrating that the conduct did not reach the threshold of ‘more than merely preparatory’ as required by law.
  3. Withdrawal: If the defendant voluntarily and unequivocally withdraws from the attempt before completing the assault, this might be a valid defence, indicating a lack of intent to follow through with the crime.

Sentencing and Penalties

Sentencing for attempted assault considers the seriousness of the intended offence and the defendant’s actions. The penalties can vary significantly, depending on the circumstances, the defendant’s criminal history, and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.

Aggravating Factors

  • Use of a weapon or dangerous implement.
  • Pre-meditation or planning.
  • Vulnerability of the victim.
  • Prior convictions for similar offences.

Mitigating Factors

  • Lack of significant harm caused.
  • Early plea of guilt.
  • Genuine remorse and efforts to make amends.
  • Evidence of duress or coercion.

Case Law Illustrations

R v. Walker (1992)

In this case, the defendant was found with a loaded firearm near the intended victim’s home. The court held that his actions constituted an attempted assault as they demonstrated clear intent and moved beyond mere preparation.

R v. Campbell (1991)

The defendant was arrested outside a post office with a threatening note and an imitation firearm but had not yet entered the building. The court ruled that his actions were not sufficient for an attempt as they remained preparatory.


Attempted assault in English law is a complex offence that requires specific intent and actions beyond mere preparation. The legal framework, primarily based on the Criminal Attempts Act of 1981, sets a clear standard for what constitutes an attempt. However, judicial interpretation plays a crucial role in applying these principles to individual cases.

The distinction between preparation and attempt is critical, and the courts often struggle with this fine line to ensure justice. Understanding the elements, defences, and sentencing considerations for attempted assault is crucial for legal practitioners, law enforcement, and individuals to navigate this complex area of criminal law.

Attempt To Assault FAQ'S

Yes, you can be charged with attempted assault if you took a substantial step towards committing the act of assault, even if no physical harm occurred.

A substantial step can vary depending on the circumstances, but it generally involves actions that demonstrate a clear intent to commit assault, such as preparing a weapon, making threats, or taking physical actions towards the victim.

Penalties for attempted assault vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the intended harm. They can range from fines and probation to imprisonment, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

Yes, you have the right to defend yourself against a charge of attempted assault. It is advisable to consult with an attorney who can help build a strong defence strategy based on the specific facts of your case.

Yes, you can still be charged with attempted assault even if the victim did not feel threatened. The focus is on your intent and actions, rather than the victim’s perception.

In some cases, if the attempted assault was unsuccessful and you subsequently committed the actual assault, you may be charged with both attempted assault and assault. However, this can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances.

Yes, you can still be charged with attempted assault even if you do not have the means to carry out the act. The focus is on your intent and actions, rather than your ability to physically harm someone.

If you can demonstrate that your actions were in self-defence and you reasonably believed that you were in imminent danger of harm, it may be a valid defence against a charge of attempted assault. However, the specific circumstances will be crucial in determining the outcome.

Intent is a key element in a charge of attempted assault. If you can prove that you did not have the intent to harm anyone, it may be a valid defence against the charge. However, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish your intent.

In most cases, consent is not a valid defence against a charge of attempted assault. The law generally aims to protect individuals from harm, even if they consent to it. However, specific laws and circumstances may vary, so it is essential to consult with an attorney to understand the legal implications in your jurisdiction.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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