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R v Ireland

Mentioned in Source 2.

Facts and Desisions

In this case a stalker breathed heavily down the telephone, yet did not speak. The House of Lords held that silence is a threat if the defendant intended to cause fear, and it is assault if the claimant fears it would be carried out in the very near future, i.e a couple of minutes. Lord Steyn added that 'the proposition... that words cannot suffice is unrealistic and indefensible.. (the phone caller) intends his silence to cause fear and intimidation.' (source 2, lines 16-17)

How did it change the law?

This case is a criminal case and therefore is only persuasive in tort law. It broadened the law by stating that silent phone calls could be assault.

Has it achieved justice in the law?

This case was fair on the claimant who would feel afraid (source 2, lines 17-20)

What is its significance for development in the law?

The case said that words alone could be an assault, but only in criminal law. As the leading case, heard by the House of Lords, it is however highly likely that this would be followed in tort law, if a case arose. The authors of the source are suggesting it would follow Lord Steyn’s view as assault is about protecting C from the fear of unwanted physical contact (Source 2 Lines 20-23).

The case rejected the views expressed in R v Meade, where it was said in obiter, that 'no words or singing are equivalent to assault'. It does follow the decision in R v Wilson, where the defendant was found guilty of assault when he said "get out the knives". 

References with other cases.

Other cases in relation to R v Ireland include Turberville v Savage in which it was found that words can negate an assault. (Source 2 lines 24-25)

Thomas v NUM (source 2 lines 26-43) highlighted that immediacy is a key requirement for an act to be an assault. Is it an immediate threat if the phone calls are made to the home? Even though no words were used in the phone call in R v Ireland, it was deemed that its intent was to create fear and if somebody is on a phone you cannot see where they are. The threat may be immediate as they could be standing outside your house, yet one cannot know.

This is in contrast to Read v Coker (source 1, lines 1-5) in which Byles Serjt and Jervis CJ believe no words can amount to assault. (source 1, line 11 and 16-19)