Battery is the intentional and direct application of force to another person. Assault on the other hand is causing a person reasonable apprehension of the infliction of force or immediate harm upon him. For instance, if Mr. A hits Mr. B with a stick, Mr. A has committed Battery but if Mr. A threatens to hit Mr. B with a stick and Mr. B believes that Mr. A will carry out his threat that will be an Assault.
Though assault and battery are used hand in hand, they are different torts, e.g. to throw water at a person is an assault but if any drops fall upon him it is battery; throwing a stone at someone is an assault, because the person expects the stone will cause him harm but when the stone touches the person, it becomes battery. It does not matter if any harm is done to the person per se.
For battery to exist, there must be a voluntary act by the person applying the force intended to bring about the contact. Therefore I do not commit battery against you if X seizes my hand and uses it like a club – here X alone is liable because I did not intend to hit you with my hand in the first place. It is immaterial if the person accused of battery did not intend to cause serious harm as there will be liability for the injury even though it was neither desired nor even foreseen. However, where there is consent, there is no battery.
Assault requires no contact because its essence is conduct which leads a person to expect the application of force. In majority of cases, an assault precedes a battery. Though, there can be battery without an assault, for instance when a person is hit from behind.
It should however be noted that under Nigerian law, assault and battery are treated as one and the same. Section 252 of the Criminal Code Act defines an assault as:
“ a person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to the person of another, either directly or indirectly, without his consent, or with his consent, if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to the person of another without his consent, in such circumstances that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently a present ability to effect his purpose, is said to assault that other person, and the act is called an assault”.
It is also worthy to note that by virtue of Section 351 of the Criminal Code Act, any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable, if no greater punishment is provided, to imprisonment for one year.