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Intentionally Cause Injury

intentionally cause injuryIntentionally cause injury is a charge that is often dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court. The charge is generally laid in situations where two people have had a fight with each other and there has not been any ‘serious injury’ caused. To prove someone has intentionally caused injury, the police must show that the accused caused injury to another person which was intentional and that the accused had no lawful excuse.

The statutory provisions of Intentionally Cause Injury

Pursuant to s 18 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (“the Act”), an accused person commits the offence of intentionally causing injury if:

  1. Another person suffers injury; and
  2. The accused person caused that injury; and
  3. The accused person intended to cause that injury; and
  4. The accused does not have a legal defence for causing that injury (self-defence for example).

Jurisdictional limits

Intentionally cause injury is an indictable offence, which means that it may be heard in the higher courts; however it can also be tried summarily in the Magistrates’ Court. The seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the charge will determine where the matter is heard.

In terms of the sentencing range available, the Act stipulates that the offence carries a 10 year term of imprisonment as the highest possible sentence. However the maximum term of imprisonment that can be imposed in the Magistrates’ Court for a single offence is two years. Further, the maximum aggregate total sentence that can be imposed is five years.1

This offence is a medium – high ranging violent offence which does not generally carry a goal term when guilt is established in the Magistrates’ Court if it is a first offence that is not particularly gruesome.

Intentionally Cause Injury: The elements

There are four elements that constitute the offence. The prosecution must prove each of them ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to prove their case against the accused person. If the prosecution is unable to do this, the accused is not guilty of the offence. As criminal lawyers, if the case is not a plea of guilty, we investigate cases and identify problems in the prosecution case, to show that one or more of the elements are not proven.

Element 1: The complainant suffered an “injury”.

suffering intentionally cause injuryThe complainant is the person alleged to have been injured.
The prosecution must prove that they suffered an injury.

In this context the word injury has a specific legal meaning. For any offence alleged to have been committed after 1 July 2013, injury is defined in s 15 of the Act as:

“injury” means—

  1. physical injury; or
  2. harm to mental health—

whether temporary or permanent;

“physical injury” includes unconsciousness, disfigurement, substantial pain, infection with a disease and an impairment of bodily function;

“harm to mental health” includes psychological harm but does not include an emotional reaction such as distress, grief, fear or anger unless it results in psychological harm;

Arguably injuries that are superficial or trifling are not injuries within the meaning of s 15. We can make this assessment and attempt to have charges withdrawn if we do not think that the complainant has suffered an injury as defined by the Act.

Element 2: The accused caused the complainant’s injury.

The prosecution must prove that the injury of the complainant was caused by the accused.

This element will be satisfied if the accused caused the injury directly, for example by hitting the complainant.

It will also be satisfied if the accused caused the injury indirectly.2

As criminal defence lawyers, we will consider whether there is scope to argue that the complainant would have suffered that injury, irrespective of what the accused is alleged to have done. This is one way to challenge the prosecution case, that the accused caused the complainant’s injury.

Element 3: The accused intended to cause injury.

The prosecution must prove that the accused intended to inflict injury on the complainant. It is not sufficient that the accused intended to perform an act that subsequently resulted in an injury.

So for example, a person may have intended to swing a baseball bat through the air. But the prosecution would have to prove that they intended to swing the baseball bat through the air and strike and injure the complainant, to make out Element 3.

If an accused was heavily affected by alcohol or drugs at the time, that can affect whether they are treated by the law as able to form the necessary intention.

It is not a defence to the offence of Intentionally Cause Injury if the accused intended to cause a different injury to that which was ultimately caused. All that the prosecution must prove is that they intended to cause an injury.

Element 4: The accused acted without lawful justification or excuse.

The prosecution must disprove any defences the accused seeks to rely on.

A defence that often arises when someone is charged with intentionally cause injury is self-defence. The availability of a defence of self-defence can turn on whether the force used was reasonable and proportionate in all the circumstances. Other defences that may arise are factual dispute about wrongful identification, mental impairment or necessity.

In a trial, the questions a judge will ask the jury to consider are:3

  1. Did the complainant suffer an injury?
    (Consider – Injury include unconsciousness, hysteria, pain and any substantial impairment of bodily function.)
    If yes, then go to 2.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of intentionally causing injury.
  2. Did the accused cause the complainant’s injury?
    (Consider – Were the accused’s actions a substantial or significant cause of the complainant’s injury?)
    If yes, then go to 3.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of intentionally causing injury.
  3. Did the accused intend to cause injury to the complainant?
    (Consider – Were the accused’s actions a substantial or significant cause of the complainant’s injury?)
    If yes, then go to 4.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of intentionally causing injury.
  4. Did the accused act without lawful justification or excuse?
    If yes, then the accused is guilty of intentionally causing injury (as long as you have also answered Yes to questions 1, 2 and 3).
Sentencing Outcomes in the Higher Courts4

From July 2011 to June 2016, there were 352 cases of Causing Injury Intentionally that were sentenced in the higher courts of Victoria. Imprisonment was imposed on the majority of these cases (42.9%) while Fines were the least imposed sentence (2.6%).

Other sentencing results include: Community Correction Order (38.4%), Wholly Suspended Sentence (8%), Partially Suspended Sentence (4.8%), and Youth Justice Centre Order (2.8%).

Of those who were sentenced to imprisonment, the longest term imposed was between 6 and 7 years. However this was given to only 1.3% of those who were sent to prison as the majority received a term of less than 1 year (32.4%).

Sentencing Outcomes in the Magistrates’ Courts5

From July 2013 to June 2016, a total of 1,907 cases of Causing Injury Intentionally were sentenced in the Victorian Magistrates’ Courts. The most common sentenced imposed were Community Correction Order (34.8%) and Imprisonment (33.0%).

Other sentencing results include: Fine (12.7%), Wholly Suspended Sentence (8.4%), Adjourned Undertaking / Discharge / Dismissal (7.7%), and Youth Justice Centre Order (1.0%).

The majority of those who were sentenced to Community Correction Order were sentenced to a period of between 12 to 18 months (Non-Aggregate: 48.7%). For imprisonment the majority period was between 3 and 6 months (27.5%). The longest prison term imposed was over 36 months (1.9%).

To view sentencing decisions by Victorian County Courts for the charge of Intentionally Cause Injury, visit this page.

Check out some of the criminal cases we’ve defended in court that involve the offence of Intentionally Cause Injury:



[1]Sentencing on Magi Court website – https://www.magistratescourt.vic.gov.au/jurisdictions/criminal-and-traffic/criminal-proceedings/sentencing.
[2]R v Salisbury [1976] VR 452.
[3]The following Checklist is taken from Criminal Charge Book, 7.4.1.3.5 – Jury checklist: Intentionally Cause Injury (1 July 2013) Judicial College of Victoria: <http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/eManuals/CCB/index.htm#46268.htm>.
[4] SACStat Higher Courts: Causing Injury Intentionally (1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016)
[5] SACStat Magistrates’ Courts: Causing Injury Intentionally (1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016)