What are the legal consequences of threats and violence?

threats and voilence

Composure is vital in the Spur of the moment

Social media and news outlets alike have once again been oversaturated with an unpleasant narrative: the unnecessary spat that unfolded in a family restaurant at The Glen. Since the ordeal, various opinions have been voiced over social media platforms sympathizing with either of the two parties involved, as well as some criticizing Spur for failing to take action in preventing the ‘fight’.

The individuals involved have been criticized on various grounds; from racial undertones to inappropriate actions toward women and children. This article will focus on analyzing the actions of both parties in order to establish any possible criminal liability that they could face.

The facts of the matter

In summary, the controversy of the matter revolves around two videos depicting a man who threatens a woman at the restaurant in The Glen. The original video is marred with foul language from both adults as well as various gestures and actions that will be discussed and analysed below.

From a legal point of view, there are three distinct moments depicted between the two videos that could be deemed ‘cringe-worthy’. The first of these moments, involves the man grabbing the woman’s child by the arm and pulling the child towards him.

The second moment occurs when the man lunges forward over the table with an open hand gesturing that he will hit the woman. This action is exacerbated by his words which, due to the offensive words, will not be repeated in this article.

The third moment which leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth occurs just before the man is finally escorted from the scene. Before leaving, he shakes and shoves the table toward the woman who is still surrounded by children.

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Assault in the SA legal system

South African criminal law is primarily found in the common law, which means that it is not necessarily written down in a statute, but is rather derived from historical sources of law and is developed through the courts with the passing of time.

In terms of our common law, assault is defined as the unlawful and intentional act or omission which results in another’s bodily integrity being directly or indirectly impaired or infringed OR which inspires belief in another person that such impairment in bodily integrity is immediately to take place. In laymen’s terms, this means that threatening someone may constitute assault if that person believed that the threat would be followed through.

With the definition of assault kept in mind, reconsidering the actions of the unnamed man in Spur is placed in a whole new light. The question could hypothetically be posed whether the action of him grabbing the child could constitute assault.

Whether or not he could be found guilty of such an offence is only for a court to decide, but in light of the circumstances, he could definitely face such a charge should an allegation be made that he infringed the child’s bodily integrity.

Secondly, and possibly much more damningly, the unnamed man in the video could face a very real test to defend himself should he be charged with assault of the woman in relation to him threatening to hit her.

The defining factor for a court in deciding whether or not the threat constitutes assault is whether or not the person, who is threatened, believes that there would be immediate violence to his or her person. In considering the CCTV footage, the woman is clearly jerking away from the man when he intimates hitting her which creates the impression that she believed that the threat would be followed through.

The final act from the man is arguably the least serious in nature. His decision to shake the table could be as a result of frustration and provocation. One could also argue that he wanted to further intimidate the woman and her child.

From a legal point of view, however, potential accountability of this action would probably be dependent on the findings of his former actions as no one action is considered in a vacuum, but rather judged in light of all of the circumstances.

In other words, in the event that he would be charged for assault for the three separate actions, he would most likely be found guilty of the last action, in the event that he is found guilty on either one of the former counts.

The verbal ‘crimes’

Although human dignity is a fluid term which is up for interpretation by philosophers and laymen alike, for the purposes of this article, it refers to one’s self-respect and mental tranquility. With this in mind, our common law defines crimen iniuria as the unlawful and intentional serious violation of the dignity or privacy of another person.

Although modern society have become somewhat desensitized to profanity, it should be kept in mind that Spur is a family restaurant. Besides the children of the two people who can be heard swearing at one another on the video, many other families were also dining at the Restaurant on that fateful afternoon.

This could potentially mean that any of the individuals who witnessed the exchange between the man and woman could potentially lay a criminal complaint against the profanity participants – even though their words were only directed at one another.

Whether or not the exchange would constitute a “serious violation” would be for a court to decide. Nevertheless, the man and woman could face serious charges and the possibility of having to live with a criminal record for their failure to control themselves in the circumstances.

Composure is a classy act

This video could serve as a cautionary tale in reminding citizens that owe a duty to society to act in accordance with acceptable norms and standards. In order to avoid dwelling on the wrong side of the law, one should be prepared to practice self-control in unpleasant circumstances as failure to do so could have dire consequences.

It serves as a useful reminder that threats and violence alike will be harshly considered by our courts.

Need legal assistance? Cavanagh & Richards Attorneys is a dynamic premier labour and commercial law firm in Gauteng. The firm, assisted by a team of attorneys and advocates, offers legal services in respect of all requirements generated by commercial and corporate companies and the individual South African citizen with specialization in contract law, corporate law, civil litigation and labour law matters and handles both start-up and established companies.

Written by Dawie Coetzer