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Elements of Common Assault in South Africa


- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - March 2019

The South African legal system has an interesting definition when it comes to the elements of common assault in South Africa. You see, our legal system does not differentiate between assault and battery, and only imposes a fine for common assault. Only when a person is charged with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, will they face prison time.

Common assault falls under common law, which means the law regarding these crimes are entirely determined by the courts and these laws have no grounding in statutes. Therefore in order to accurately determine the elements of common assault in South Africa, you would have to conduct a detailed study of the case law that applies. However the accepted common law definition for common assault is as follows:

“Assault consists of unlawfully and intentionally

  • applying force to the person of another;
  • inspiring a belief in another person that force is immediately to be applied to him or her”

However if we were to discuss the elements of common assault, we should look at the elements of a common law crime in South Africa. In order to prove that the crime of common assault took place, the prosecution must prove that:

  • the act was voluntary (actus reus)
  • the offender had criminal capacity
  • the offender was at fault through intention or negligence (mens rea)

It may seem a broad brush to cover everything under, but without these three elements, it is virtually impossible to prove that a crime took place.

Should you have a query regarding common assault and the law regarding this crime, do not hesitate to make use of our services. Send us your query and will put you in touch with a criminal attorney who can offer expert insight.

Elements of Common Assault in South Africa