Source 1

Extract adapted from the judgment of Byles Serjt in Read v Coker [1853] 13 CB 850 Court of Common Pleas.
The claimant was in arrears with his rent. One day the defendant told him to leave the
premises. When he refused the defendant instructed his workmen to make him do so.
They surrounded the claimant, rolled their sleeves up and threatened the claimant that
if he did not leave they would break his neck. The claimant then alleged assault by the
defendant and his workmen and succeeded.

To constitute an assault there must be something more than a threat of violence. An
assault is thus defined in Buller’s Nisi Prius: “An assault is an attempt or offer, by force
or violence, to do a corporal hurt to another, as, by pointing a pitchfork at him, when
standing within reach; presenting a gun at him; drawing a sword and waving it in a
menacing manner. But no words can amount to an assault.”
So an assault is said to be “an attempt or offer to beat another without touching him; as
if one lifts up his cane or his fist in a threatening manner at another; or strikes at him
but misses him; this is an assault, which Finch describes to be ‘an unlawful setting upon
one’s person’”.

If a man comes into a room, and lays his cane on the table, and says to another, “If you
don’t go out, I will knock you on the head,” would not that be an assault? Clearly not: it is
a mere threat, unaccompanied by any gesture or action toward carrying it into effect.