R v St George [1840] 9 C&P 483

Threat as assault – probability or possibility of the threat - reasonable fear


The Defendant (St. George) got into an argument with the victim, a Mr Durant. During the course of this argument, the Defendant took out a gun and pointed it at Mr Durant. The gun was, in fact, not loaded. He was in any event prevented from taking further action by a third party. The Defendant was prosecuted for assault.


The issue in this case centred on the possibility of a threat being carried out. Assault is commonly found where the victim was placed in fear of being harmed, however the question in the present case was whether even if a victim was so afraid, assault could be found to exist where the threat was impossible to perform (as was the case here, since the gun was unloaded). One aspect of the issue before the court was therefore whether the victim’s fear had to have been reasonable.


It was held by the court that in the circumstances the Defendant was guilty of an assault. Threatening someone with a gun, regardless of whether the gun was loaded, would amount to a threat as long as the victim thought that the gun was in fact loaded. On the other hand, where the victim was aware that the gun was not loaded, but was still afraid, that fear would be unreasonable and therefore there would be no assault in those circumstances. The test applied is subjective, but there must be at least a subjective possibility that the threat against the victim can be carried out.