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R v Ireland


The issue that arises on this appeal is whether a telephone call, followed by silence, can constitute an assault for the purposes of section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Held: In our judgment the making of a telephone call followed by silence, or a series of telephone calls, is capable of amounting to a relevant act for the purposes of section 47. The act consists in the making of the telephone call, and it does not matter whether words or silence ensue. There is no doubt that the telephone calls made the victims apprehensive. Equally, there is no doubt that they caused them psychological damage. In our judgment, once the fear and the damage are established, then when a telephone call is made by the appellant and the victim lifts the telephone and then knows that the man is telephoning them yet again, they will be apprehensive of suffering the very psychological damage from which they did suffer, namely palpitations, difficulty in breathing, cold sweats, anxiety, inability to sleep, dizziness, stress, and the like. As in the case of Smith, these victims would not know what the appellant was going to do next. In most cases an assault is likely to involve direct physical violence to the body. However, the fact that the violence is inflicted indirectly, causing psychological harm, does not render the act to be any less an act of violence. Nor, in our judgment, is it necessary that there should be an immediate proximity between defendant and victim. Fear can be instilled as readily over the telephone as it can through the window. In our judgment repetitious telephone calls of this nature are likely to cause the victims to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.

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