Criminal Force and Assault - Know The Difference!


Section 351 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 says that whoever makes any gesture, or any preparation with knowledge or intention that it is likely that the gesture or preparation may lead any person to apprehend that he who makes that gesture or preparation is about to use criminal force to that person is said to commit an assault. It is important to note that mere words will not result in an assault but words which a person uses may give the gesture or preparation a meaning as may make those gestures or preparations amount to an assault.

Essentials of Assault

The following are the essential elements to prove an assault has been committed-

  • There must be “a gesture or preparation made to use criminal force”.

  • That “gesture or preparation must be made in the presence of person”, against whom it is being made.

  • There must be “an intention or knowledge that such gesture or preparation would cause apprehension in the mind of the victim that criminal force would be used against him.

  • Finally, the actual cause of apprehension of use of criminal force against him, in the mind of the victim.

While assault talks about using the criminal Force, it is section 350 of the Indian Penal Code which sheds light on the meaning of criminal force. It states that whoever intentionally uses force to any person, without their consent to commit an offense or knowing that use of such force will cause injury, fear or annoyance to the person; such force is termed as a Criminal force.

Essentials of Criminal Force

The essentials of force are combined with that of the criminal force and show us what exact need to be satisfied to constitute criminal force.

  • There must be a use of force.

  • Force should be used intentionally

  • Force used should be without consent

  • The force used should satisfy either of it – a. the use of force must be “in pursuance to the commission of an offense” or; b. the use of force must be “intending to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause injury, fear or annoyance to the person to whom the force is used”.

Distinctions between Criminal Force and Assault

Criminal Force

1. Criminal force is the force used intentionally to any person to cause injury or causing fear or annoyance.

2. Even the use of criminal force includes an assault.

3. Physical contact exists.

4. The action of the wrong­doer is completed.

5. In criminal force, the assault is consummated by actually using means and ability.

6. The criminal force has some­thing more in it as the intentional application of force to the person of another without law­ful justification is necessary.

7. No belief inability is needed in criminal force. The applica­tion of even the slightest amount of force is actionable.

8. Criminal force is the more serious form of offense compared to assault.

9. Force is defined in Section 349 and criminal force is explained in Section 350 of the Code.

The points requiring proof in the case of a charge of ‘using criminal force’ are:

i) That the accused used force on the complainant;

ii) That he did so intentionally;

iii) That he used it without the complainant’s consent;

iv) That he did so in order to commit an offense, or with the intention of causing, knowledge of the likelihood of causing injury, fear, or annoyance to the complainant;

v) That he received no grave and sudden provocation from the complainant.


1. Assault denotes the preparatory acts which cause apprehension of the use of criminal force against, the person.

2. In assault, there is mere appre­hension of use of force and no use of actual force.

3. There exists no physical contact.

4. Assault is an attempt to commit criminal force.

5. In the assault, the accused must be having enough means and ability to carry his threat into effect.

6. An assault is an overt act indica­ting an immediate intention to commit criminal force coupled with the capacity of carrying out the intention into effect.

7. In order to constitute an assault, it is necessary that the person so assaulted must, on reasonable grounds, believe that the person assaulting has the ability to apply the force so attempted by him.

8. Throwing the water upon a person is an assault.

9. Assault is a less serious form of offense compared to criminal force.

10. Assault is defined in Section 351 of the Code.

The points requiring proof in the case of a charge of assault are as under:

i) That the accused made a gesture or preparation to use criminal force;

ii) That it was made in the pre­sence of the complainant;

iii) That he intended or knew that it was likely that such gesture, etc., would cause the complainant to apprehend that such criminal force would be used;

iv) That such gesture or prepara­tion did cause the complai­nant to apprehend it;

v) That the accused received no grave and sudden provocation from the complainant.

Punishment for Assault or Criminal Force

When someone assaults or uses Criminal force another person based on sudden and grave provocation by another person, he may be sentenced to prison time of a term which may be extended for a term of three months or a fine of up to INR 500, or both. It is defined under Section 352 of the Indian Penal Code.

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