6 March 1997
Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
 2 Cr. App. R. 492; Times, March 31, 1997
Offences Against the Person Act 1861 s. 47
Williams v Natural Life Health Foods Ltd, Bailey v Ministry of Defence, R v Pittwood
R. v. Constanza  2 Cr App Rep 492 is an English case, which was heard by the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal on appeal from the Crown Court and is well-known (amongst other cases) for establishing the legal precedent in English criminal law, that assault could be committed by causing the victim to apprehend violence which was to take place some time in the not immediate future, that it is not necessary for the victim to see the potential perpetrator of the violence and that it was for the prosecution to prove that fear was in the victim's mind, but how it got there is irrelevant.
The Appellant (Gaetano Constanza) was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm contrary to section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The case against him was that his behaviour was such as to cause the victim (Louise Wilson) to feel that his actions posed a threat to her personal safety. The Crown maintained that Constanza's behaviour, which included, inter alia, following her, making silent telephone calls and writing on her door, and which was described as stalking, writing over 800 letters to her in the space of 4 months, had caused this fear. Constanza had delivered a letter by hand which when read by the victim, caused her to believe that Constanza had "flipped" and would use force against her. There was medical evidence that the victim was suffering from a clinical state of depression and anxiety. The Crown said that Constanza's actions had occasioned actual bodily harm.
Constanza appealed against his conviction on the grounds that the case ought not to have been left to the jury as the violence that the victim feared had not been sufficiently immediate because the victim could not see the potential perpetrator. Constanza also argued that an assault could not be committed solely by words, but physical action was necessary.
The appeal was dismissed. The Court of Appeal held that the time to start measuring the immediacy of the apprehended violence is the time when the victim has the fear, that it would not be right to leave the case to the jury when the violence was anticipated at some time in the distant future and that it is not necessary for the victim to be able to see the potential perpetrator of the violence. In this case, as the victim had believed that the violence could occur at any time, the judge was entitled to leave the question of whether or not the victim had a fear of immediate violence to the jury. The Court of Appeal also held that it is for the Crown (the Prosecution) to prove that fear was in the victim's mind and that it is irrelevant how it got there and that conduct accompanying words could make the words an assault. Therefore, the appellant had committed assault.