Collins v Wilcock [1984] 1 WLR 1172

Definition of battery, unlawful touching when beyond scope of police authority

Facts

A police officer wished to question a woman in relation to her alleged activity as a prostitute. The woman decided to walk away, but the police officer was intent on stopping her and in order to do so, grabbed her arm in order to prevent her from walking away. Under the Street Offences Act 1959 c.57, the police officer had no power to detain the woman. The woman struggled with the police officer and scratched him. She was charged with assaulting a police office in the course of his duty.

Issue

The issue in this case was whether the conviction for assaulting a police officer was lawful given the lack of legal authority on the part of the police office to restrain the woman.

Held

It was held that the police officer was acting outside the scope of his powers as he had no power to arrest the woman in that situation and therefore, was acting outside of the scope of his duties as a police officer. There was no question therefore of assaulting a police officer in the course of his duty. It was held further that the grabbing on the part of the police officer, without the power to make an arrest, amounted to an unlawful assault (a battery). The woman had been entitled to resist as an action of self-defence. Her conviction was therefore quashed. The court took the opportunity to clarify the meaning of battery as a touching of another with hostile intent or in other words any intentional touching outside of the scope of what normally acceptable.

“[A] broader exception has been created to allow for the exigencies of everyday life. Generally speaking consent is a defence to battery; and most of the physical contacts of ordinary life are not actionable because they are impliedly consented to by all who move in society and so expose themselves to the risk of bodily contact . . Although such cases are regarded as examples of implied consent, it is more common nowadays to treat them as falling within a general exception embracing all physical contact which is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life . . [We] think that nowadays it is more realistic, and indeed more accurate, to state the broad underlying principle, subject to the broad exception. . . In each case, the test must be whether the physical contact so persisted in has in the circumstances gone beyond generally acceptable standards of conduct; and the answer to that question will depend upon the facts of the particular case.” (Goff LJ)