Affray and Riot Offences
As is the case with many crimes, the crime of assault is regarded as more serious if it is committed by a group of people.
Where lots of people are involved in a violent incident, or even just a heated argument or fight, Police may also charge group members with the offences of Affray or Riot.
Affray has become a very common charge in the Children’s Court and carries a much higher penalty than assault – you can be charged with Affray in any situation where there are 2 or more people involved, and the actions of the group are intimidating enough that any members of the public would be frightened.
Any group scuffle or fight in a public place can lead to an Affray charge. The maximum penalty for Affray is 10 years imprisonment.
The category of offence changes depending on the seriousness of the injury. Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm – is where there is an injury from the assault, such as a bruise, swelling or a graze.
Grievous Bodily Harm – is where there is some sort of serious or permanent injury to the victim, or an injury which will cause the victim ongoing problems. Typical examples of where this charge is used include fractured jaws, badly broken bones and brain injuries.
You can be charged with inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm either recklessly, or intentionally (see definitions below).
You are not allowed to carry weapons or knives for the purpose of self-defence. If a person is injured with a knife, or in any way cut, you can be charged with Wounding, either Recklessly or Intentionally . These are extremely serious offences.
With Grievous Bodily Harm and Wounding charges, there are 2 different ways you can be charged – that you acted:
- “With intent” – this is where it looks like the injury was deliberately inflicted, or the offender really wanted to cause the injury. For example, if someone is repeatedly kicked in the head and suffers a brain injury as a result. Another example is where a person deliberately “stabs” someone with a knife.
- “Recklessly” – this is where the injury looks like it was an unintended result but the offender should have realised that it such an injury might happen as a result of their actions. For example, a knife is pulled out during a fight and someone gets cut accidentally, or non-deliberately, while the knife is being waved around.
Basically, which charge you get depends on whether it looks like the injury was deliberately or purposefully inflicted, or whether it was an unintended result. If the infliction of a serious injury appears to have been intentional, the penalties are very tough – usually long periods of detention or jail.
If somebody else in the group causes the injury but you were part of the original assault, you can be held responsible for any injuries caused to the victim by members of the group you were with at the time.
Once you are involved, you can be held legally responsible for whatever happens to the victim, even if the injury is actually inflicted by someone else.
If the victim dies, each member of the group actively involved in the assault can be charged with murder, regardless of which one of their actions caused the injury.
If you are acting only to defend yourself, you are not guilty of an assault. However, self-defence is very narrowly defined and you are only allowed to do what is reasonably necessary to either stop the other person from harming you or to enable yourself to get away.
For example, if someone is hitting you, you are allowed to push them away or take whatever steps that a reasonable person would think is necessary to get them off you. However, if you are able to free yourself and walk away that is what you should do. You are not allowed to keep going just to “punish” them. You are not allowed to take excessive measures or over-react.
The law of self-defence does not allow you to retaliate or “get someone back” for something they have done to you – no matter how bad.
Provocation, or where someone does something annoying or rude which provokes the fight, is not a defence to the crime of assault. In other words, even if someone calls you a name or does something rude and offensive towards you, you are not allowed to hit them.