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Defending a classic ‘he said, she said’ assault

Disputes can involve multiple sides of the one story. It is therefore not unusual for things to get very messy, very quickly. In assault matters, whether or not the defendant was provoked, acting in self-defence or even whether the altercation was consented to by both parties, are factors that are considered by the court.

Prosecutions are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the assault in question was a unlawful one, in that the defendant’s actions were not authorised, justified or excused by the law. The defence will endeavour to raise defences where available and discredit the prosecution witnesses accounts, to show that the evidence is in fact unreliable and should be ignored by the court.

In a recent example that our firm dealt with, an altercation occurred in a work place, following a verbal discussion over a phone where the complainant demanded that the defendant attend the office to correct a pay discrepancy, only to result in the employee being violently shoved and the altercation starting from there.

In this matter, there were witnesses of the altercation, all whom put forth different and contradicting evidence regarding “who held who back” when they attempted to break up the men. By the time that the witnesses walked into the office, both the complainant and the defendant were exchanging blows.

We were able to successfully show that provocation and self-defence were open on the evidence. As there were competing facts being considered by the court, this was a clear reason as to why the evidence of the complainant was to be ignored. The Magistrate could not be satisfied that the Prosecution had negatived self-defence and provocation beyond a reasonable doubt, for the prosecution had to prove that the complainant did not shove the defendant without cause, and that the shove did not cause the defendant to lose control. In the matter of Van den Hoek v R (1986), it was held that a defendant is not required to expressly say that his or her state of mind was such thathewas provoked, in cases where there is “some evidence fit for its consideration”. The Prosecution also failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant did not then strike the defendant first, and this was ultimately accepted by the Magistrate.

If you have been involved in any incident that has resulted in you being charged with assault, we recommend you contactour firm immediately so that we can provide advice early and give you the best possiblechance to defend the charges.