Trespass to the person means an intentional or direct interference with the body or liberty of another and arises irrespective of the presence of harm.
1. Intentional: Trespass to the person cannot be committed by accident. In the case of Letang v Cooper, Lord Denning held that when an injury or damage is intentionally inflicted, then the injured party has a cause of action in trespass.
2. No harm required: When there is a trespass to the person, there can be an action in tort whether or not the person was injured/harmed. Trespasses are thus considered actionable per se.
3. Direct and physical: According to Elliot and Quinn, “trespass requires an act which is direct and physical. where the rights protected by tort are infringed by an indirect act, there may be a remedy in a tort such as nuisance or negligence, but not in trespass.”
There are three main forms of trespass to a person. These are
1. Assault: The meaning of “assault” in tort is different from its everyday usage. Whilst assault in everyday parlance means a violent physical attack, assault in tort is an act which causes a claimant to perceive, apprehend, or believe that immediate physical violence will be used on him or her. Summarily, an assault in tort is the apprehension/belief that one is about to be physically attacked. For example, pointing a gun at a person is considered an assault in tort as it indicates an impending physical attack. Similarly, words threatening violence may count as assault.
2. Battery: This involves a direct, intentional, and physical use of force against another person without his/her consent. For example, shooting a person, or hitting a person with one’s fist, are considered acts of battery.
3. False Imprisonment: This involves the unlawful restriction of a person’s freedom of movement.
These forms of trespass are extensively discussed in subsequent notes.
Catherine Elliott and Frances Quinn, Tort Law, (7th edn, Longman 2009)