The Law on Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

by Sonia Hickey & Ugur Nedim

A 22-year old Western Australian man accused of burning a toddler with a cigarette lighter and boiling water has told Perth Magistrates Court the little girl tripped over and poured a pot of boiling noodles on herself.

Jaycob Yarran, a student of Murdoch University in Perth, has been charged with intent to harm and an act causing bodily harm.

Mr Yarran’s live-in partner is Teeana Sorrell, the victim’s aunt. She cares for both the two-year old and the toddler’s four year-old sister. It is alleged the assault occurred when Ms Sorrell left the children with Mr Yarran’s care, despite a court order preventing him from going near the girls.

The toddler was taken to hospital with third degree burns to her torso, limbs and feet. She remains in hospital receiving care, and is likely to undergo multiple surgeries and could lose part of a finger.

Police allege that after the incident, Mr Yarran called his girlfriend who told him to ring an ambulance, but he refused to do so because of the cost, instead putting the girl under a cold shower. He later took her to Perth Children’s Hospital in a share-riding car.

Mr Yarran told medical staff the child pulled a boiling pot of noodles off the stove, but preliminary examinations showed the toddler’s injuries were consistent with deliberate immersion.

The court heard that when interviewed by special detectives, the little girl’s four-year old sister said Yarran used a ‘fire lighter’ on the little girl, and said she’s scared of him because he hurts her.

The offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm in NSW

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prescribes a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison for the offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, or AOABH.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant committed an act of violence towards another person, and
  2. The act caused injuries amounting to actual bodily harm.

Actual bodily harm is that which is more than ‘transient or trifling’, and includes lasting cuts, abrasions and bruises, as well as serious mental harm.

The maximum penalty increases to 7 years in prison where the offence is committed with another or other persons.

Defences to the charge include:

  1. Self defence,
  2. Duress,
  3. Necessity,
  4. Automatism, and
  5. Mental illness

Harming a child in New South Wales

Our state also has specific laws aimed at protecting children from the adults who fail in their responsibility to care for them.

Section 43A of the Crimes Act, for example, sets a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison for ‘failure of person with parental responsibility to care for child’.

To establish that offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant had parental responsibility for a child,
  2. He or she intentionally or recklessly failed to provide the child with the ‘necessities of life’, and
  3. He or she did not have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for your conduct

A ‘child’ is defined as a person under the age of 16.

Necessities of life include sufficient nutrition, shelter and required medical care

Defences to that charge include duress, and necessity.

Released on bail

Mr Yarran has been released on bail, with strict conditions that he does not contact, directly or indirectly, the two-year-old girl or her sister.

While the presiding Magistrate said the allegations were extremely serious, he made clear Mr Yarran is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

He is due back in court next month.

Authors

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience in criminal defence. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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