R v Constanza [1997] Crim LR 576

Whether words alone could constitute an assault and the temporal element of fear of immediate violence.


A man was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm of a female ex-colleague. For a period of almost two years, the man followed the women home from work, made numerous silent phone calls, wrote her over 800 letters, drove past her house, visited her house without consent, and wrote offensive words on her house’s door three times. Following these actions, she received two additional letters with threatening language. She was soon diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from clinical depression and anxiety due to apprehended fear caused by the man’s actions and letters.


(1) Whether the man’s words alone, without any physical action against the victim, could constitute an assault and (2) whether there was an apprehended fear of immediate and unlawful violence in order to constitute an assault under Offences Against a Person Act 1861 s. 47.


The Court stipulated that words alone can constitute an assault, without the presence of physical action, if they cause the victim to apprehend a fear of immediate violence. Concerning the temporal aspect of the fear of violence, the Court held that, for the purposes of proving an assault, it is sufficient to demonstrate that the victim feared violence “at some time not excluding the immediate future.” The Court held that this element was fulfilled, placing emphasis upon the close proximity of the man’s house to the victim’s and his delivery of the most recent letters to her house. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the conviction for assault occasioning bodily harm caused solely by words.