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   Home      DPP v Smith [2006]
DPP v Smith [2006] EWHC 94 Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division

The defendant's ex-girlfriend went round to his house whilst he was asleep in bed. She went up to his bedroom and woke him up. He pushed her down on to the bed, sat on top of her and cut off her hair which was in a pony tail. He did not physically cause any harm to her, other than the cutting of the hair. She sustained no bruises, scratches or cuts. Whilst she was emotionally upset and distressed by the experience there was no evidence or suggestion of psychiatric injury. The defendant was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The Magistrates accepted that a common assault had been committed, however the defendant had not been charged with assault. The Magistrates held that there was no case to answer in relation to the charge under s.47, as cutting of hair itself did not constitute ABH. The prosecution appealed.


The cutting of hair did amount to actual bodily harm.

Sir Igor Judge (President of Queen's Bench Division):

"Recent authority shows that evidence of external bodily injury, or a break in or bruise to the surface of the skin, is not required. Chan-Fook established that actual bodily harm was not limited to "harm to the skin, flesh and bones of the victim". It applies to all parts of the body, "including the victim's organs, his nervous system and his brain". ... physical pain consequent on an assault is not a necessary ingredient of this offence (see also R(T) v DPP [2003] Crim LR 622).

In my judgment, whether it is alive beneath the surface of the skin or dead tissue above the surface of the skin, the hair is an attribute and part of the human body. It is intrinsic to each individual and to the identity of each individual. I note that an individual's hair is relevant to his or her autonomy. Some regard it as their crowning glory. Admirers may so regard it in the object of their affections. Even if, medically and scientifically speaking, the hair above the surface of the scalp is no more than dead tissue, it remains part of the body and is attached to it. While it is so attached, in my judgment it falls within the meaning of "bodily" in the phrase "actual bodily harm". It is concerned with the body of the individual victim."

Creswell J:

"The body, for the purposes of the word "bodily" in section 47 of the 1861 Act, includes all parts of the body, including the hairs upon the scalp. On the evidence called by the prosecution, there was a case to answer of actual bodily harm. As the President has said, to a woman her hair is a vitally important part of her body. Where a significant portion of a woman's hair is cut off without her consent, this is a serious matter amounting to actual (not trivial or insignificant) bodily harm."
Back to lecture outline on Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) in Criminal Law