Book your consultation

Book Now Mobile

Assault Charges: What You Must Know

Table of Contents

Navigating assault charges in Australia can be daunting. Understanding the legal landscape is crucial. Assault encompasses a range of offences, from simple assault to more serious forms like grievous bodily harm. Knowing the distinctions, potential penalties, and legal defences is essential.

In this article, we break down what you need to know about assault charges in Australia, providing clarity and guidance for those facing such allegations. From definitions to potential outcomes, Jameson Law aims to be a helping hand for individuals to face whatever legal challenges come their way.

Basics of Assault Charges

In Australia, as the Director of Public Prosecutions points out, Assault is a serious offence categorized under offences against the person. It encompasses various actions, including striking, touching, or applying force to another person without their consent, or obtaining consent through fraud. Assault is a criminal offence, and pleading guilty to assault will result most often in you receiving a criminal record.

It is important to remember that with Assault, actually physically injuring another person or touching them isn’t important. You can still face an assault charge for threatening violence against another individual.

Additionally, the use of light, heat, electricity, or any substance causing injury or discomfort can constitute assault. Penalties for assault vary based on the severity of the incident, with jail time being the maximum penalty.

Whether imprisonment is ordered depends on factors such as the nature of the offence, circumstances surrounding it, and the offender’s criminal history. It’s crucial for individuals to understand the gravity of assault charges and to refrain from engaging in such behaviour. Utilising the services of expert criminal lawyers, like those at Jameson Law, is the first important step to fighting any assault offences you face and ensuring that you get the justice you deserve. Contact Jameson Law today for a consultation on your legal situation.

Assault Laws in Australia

6 Main Types of Assault In Australia

Common Assault offences

In Australia, common assault stands as the most prevalent assault charge encountered in the legal system. This offence often stems from seemingly minor altercations, such as scuffles or arguments.

A person can find themselves facing common assault charges if, during a dispute, they threaten another individual or cause minor injuries through actions like pushing, shoving, hitting, or even spitting. Even throwing objects at someone can be categorized as a common assault.

The severity of punishment for common assault varies depending on several factors. These include the jurisdiction where the incident occurred, the seriousness of the offence, the extent of any harm inflicted, and the offender’s previous criminal record. Courts consider these elements when determining the appropriate penalty for the offender’s common assault offence.

Examples of common assault encompass a wide range of behaviours, from physical altercations like scuffles to verbal threats and gestures that induce fear or intimidation. Even seemingly harmless actions, like spitting on someone, can lead to a common assault charge.

According to the Criminal Code 1899, Section 335 and the Crimes Act, the maximum penalty if you plead guilty to common assault is three years of imprisonment. However, the actual punishment imposed by the court may vary based on the circumstances of the offence. For instance, if aggravating factors are present, such as a history of violence or a particularly severe assault, the court may impose a longer prison term and a higher fine, potentially up to $36,000.

Assault occasioning bodily harm

In New South Wales (NSW) criminal law, the charge of ‘Assault occasioning actual bodily harm’ arises when a person inflicts an injury on another resulting in harm, such as bruising or swelling, which typically requires medical treatment or time off work. The severity of the injury distinguishes this charge from common assault. If the offence involves the use or threat of a weapon, it can be upgraded to aggravated assault occasioning bodily harm.

Examples of actions leading to this charge include serious blows, tripping someone, or causing harm through violent actions. The extent of the injury and the degree of violence are crucial considerations in sentencing. While the phrase “actual bodily harm” is broadly interpreted, it encompasses injuries that interfere with the victim’s health or comfort, going beyond transient or trifling harm.

Penalties vary depending on the severity of the case and whether it’s handled in a Magistrate or District Court. For minor cases in the Magistrate Court, offenders may face less prison time.

However, as the Judicial Commission highlights, Assault occasioning actual bodily harm attracts a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, or 7 years if committed in a group with others, per section 59 of the Crimes Act.

The absence of a requirement to prove specific intent to cause harm distinguishes this charge from others like grievous bodily harm or wounding, focusing instead on the intentional or reckless act leading to bodily harm.

Unlawful wounding

Unlawful wounding in Australian criminal law constitutes an offence where an assault leads to the breaking or penetration of the skin, resulting in bleeding or injury. If the outer layer of the skin is broken but doesn’t lead to bleeding or penetration, it doesn’t meet the criteria for unlawful wounding. Medical evidence typically substantiates the charge, providing proof of the sustained injury. Essentially, this is about the skin breaking – most often you start to ‘bleed.’ This is what makes the charge of unlawful wounding different to the

The use of a weapon in committing the assault “upgrades” the offence, increasing its severity. While most cases of unlawful wounding are handled in the District Court, punishments can extend to a maximum of 7 years imprisonment. Despite the absence of a specific definition in the Crimes Act, common law defines wounding as involving the breaking of the skin.

The consequences of wounding can vary widely, with cases ranging from minor injuries to significant harm. It’s noteworthy that the use of a weapon is not a prerequisite for this offence. Additionally, factors such as the offender’s mental state, particularly if there’s evidence of cognitive disturbance or lack of premeditation, are taken into consideration during sentencing.

Grievous Bodily Harm

In Australia, grievous bodily harm is a severe form of assault that leads to significant harm or injury to the victim. This includes outcomes such as the loss of an organ, disfigurement, permanent or serious injuries, loss of bodily functions (like limbs, speech, or sight), serious bleeding, and life-threatening injuries. Examples of grievous bodily harm can range from broken bones and severe lacerations to head injuries resulting in brain damage or severe internal bleeding.

Convictions for grievous bodily harm carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. However, this term can increase to up to 14 years under certain circumstances, such as when the offence is committed while stealing a car, or by individuals working in specific roles like healthcare workers or ambulance officers.

Prosecution typically requires medical evidence, often in the form of a doctor’s or physiotherapist’s report, to prove the severity of the harm inflicted. Upon conviction, the court usually orders a jail term as punishment for the offender. Section 33 of the Crimes Act outlines offences involving GBH with intent, carrying a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment, while Section 35 covers offences of recklessly causing GBH, with lower maximum penalties ranging from 7 to 14 years imprisonment.

Intent requires a deliberate aim to cause harm, while recklessness involves foreseeing the risk of harm but proceeding with the action regardless. Contact Jameson Law today for a consultation on any assault-related charges you might be facing today.

Serious Assault against a police officer

Assaulting a police officer in New South Wales (NSW) constitutes a serious offence under section 60 of the Crimes Act 1900. This crime encompasses intentionally or recklessly causing physical harm to a police officer while they are carrying out their official duties.

The offence can range from light physical contact to more severe actions like punching, kicking, or spitting on an officer. Additionally, hindering or resisting arrest can lead to a charge of assaulting police. Offenders face significant penalties, including imprisonment for up to 7 years for a general assault on a public officer and up to 14 years for intentional assault against a police officer.

Sexual Assault

In New South Wales (NSW), sexual assault encompasses a broad range of non-consensual sexual acts, including forced penetration, unwanted touching, and sexual advances. Most sexual assault cases are heard in district courts and can result in penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. If a weapon is used to threaten or further assault the victim, the court may impose extended imprisonment terms.

Many individuals may be unsure if what happened to them constitutes sexual assault. It occurs when a person is coerced, forced, or tricked into sexual acts without their consent. Consent must be freely given and can be withdrawn at any time before or during sexual activity. The absence of violence or physical injury does not negate the occurrence of sexual assault.

Common terms like “rape” or “sexual touching” describe various forms of sexual assault, including forced penetration or unwanted touching of a person’s body. It’s important to recognize that responsibility for sexual assault lies solely with the offender, regardless of the victim’s actions, attire, or substance use.

Understanding 'immediate and unlawful violence'

In Australian criminal law, the term “immediate and unlawful violence” is crucial to understanding assault. Essentially, As the Judicial Commission of NSW Points out, assault doesn’t require actual physical harm to have occurred; it’s enough for someone to feel threatened by the possibility of violence. This threat can be intentional or reckless on the part of the person causing the apprehension.

What’s important here is the fear or apprehension experienced by the victim. If a person reasonably believes they are in danger of immediate harm, even if it’s uncertain when or how that harm might occur, it can still be considered assault. For instance, if someone threatens to harm another person in a way that makes the victim genuinely fear for their safety, that threat alone can constitute assault.

Moreover, physical contact isn’t always necessary for an assault to occur. Even if no contact is made, if someone’s actions or words lead another person to fear for their safety, it can still be classified as assault. This was made clear within the English law cases of R v Burstow and R v Irelandtwo cases that have precedence in Australian Law.

Importantly, the concept of immediacy means that the threat of violence doesn’t have to be imminent in the literal sense. As long as the victim reasonably believes they are in immediate danger, the threat is considered immediate for legal purposes.

Furthermore, recklessness plays a role in assault cases. If someone behaves recklessly and causes another person to fear immediate harm, they can still be held accountable for assault, even if they didn’t intend to cause harm.

In summary, “immediate and unlawful violence” in Australian criminal law refers to the apprehension or fear of imminent physical harm caused intentionally or recklessly by one person to another, regardless of whether actual physical harm is inflicted. It’s the fear of violence that forms the basis of assault charges.

Main Defences to Assault offences

In New South Wales, several key defences can be employed against assault charges. Self defence is a common defence, where the accused acted to protect themselves or others from imminent harm. Consent is another defence, asserting that the alleged victim willingly participated in the activity. Lack of intent or mistake of fact, where the accused did not intend to cause harm or was mistaken about the circumstances, can also be viable defences. It’s crucial to consult with legal experts like Jameson Law to explore these defences effectively.


In New South Wales law, grievous bodily harm (GBH) and actual bodily harm (ABH) differ primarily in severity. GBH involves serious harm such as permanent disfigurement, loss of organ function, or endangerment of life. ABH, on the other hand, encompasses less severe injuries that are not classified as grievous but still cause harm, pain, or injury, such as bruises, cuts, or temporary impairments. The distinction lies in the extent of the harm inflicted, with GBH being more severe than ABH.

If you plead guilty to an assault charge in New South Wales, the court will consider your admission of guilt as a mitigating factor during sentencing. Depending on the circumstances, the court may impose a lesser penalty than if you were found guilty after a trial. However, the specific outcome varies based on factors such as the severity of the assault, any mitigating or aggravating circumstances, and your prior criminal record. Contact Jameson Law today for advice on any assault charges you may face.

The most common punishment for assault varies depending on the severity of the offence and individual circumstances. For a first offence, penalties can range from a non-conviction under section 10 to fines, good behaviour bonds, community service, or suspended prison sentences. However, if the assault results in actual bodily harm or greater, home detention cannot be imposed. It's crucial to seek legal advice for the best possible outcome.


02 8806 0866

Book Online


Explore More Legal Resources and Articles

One Punch Law

Are you aware of the law surrounding one punches? Do you know what to do if you get caught committing this type of crime. The


Book your consultation

Scroll to Top