R v Ireland and Burstow

April 02, 2024
Micheal James

Jurisdiction / Tag(s):

Introduction to R v Ireland and Burstow

R v Ireland and Burstow (1997) is a landmark case decided by the House of Lords, the highest court in the United Kingdom at the time. This case addressed two separate appeals that significantly impacted the legal understanding of assault and grievous bodily harm (GBH) in England and Wales.

Facts of the Cases

The case involved two separate appeals:

  • R v Ireland: Ireland was accused of assault through a series of silent and menacing phone calls made to his former partner.
  • R v Burstow: Burstow had engaged in a lengthy campaign of harassment against his ex-girlfriend, including stalking, following, and making threats. This harassment resulted in the victim suffering from severe depression. Both Ireland and Burstow were convicted of their respective offenses. However, they appealed their convictions, raising crucial legal questions.

Legal Issues

The case centered on two main legal issues:

  1. Assault: Could silent phone calls constitute an assault under English law? Prior case law generally required some form of act or threat causing apprehension of immediate violence.
  2. Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH): Could psychiatric illness resulting from harassment be considered GBH for legal purposes? Traditionally, GBH was understood as physical harm.


The House of Lords delivered a significant judgment, expanding the scope of both assault and GBH. They ruled that:

  • Silent phone calls: Repeated silent calls of a menacing nature could indeed constitute an assault, provided they caused the victim to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.
  • Psychiatric Illness as GBH: Psychiatric illness caused by a crime could be considered GBH, provided it was more than just transient or trivial.


The court’s reasoning focused on the evolving nature of assault and the need to protect individuals from threats that cause fear of imminent violence. In the case of silent calls, the court acknowledged that the fear could be just as real, even in the absence of spoken threats. Regarding GBH, the court recognized that psychological harm could be just as severe and debilitating as physical injuries.


R v Ireland and Burstow holds significant weight in English and Welsh criminal law. The case broadened the definitions of assault and GBH. It established that psychological harm caused by harassment or threats could be considered criminal offenses. This broader interpretation strengthens the law’s ability to protect individuals from a wider range of harmful behaviors.


R v Ireland and Burstow stands as a landmark case, expanding the scope of assault and GBH in English and Welsh law. The case emphasizes the importance of protecting individuals from not only physical violence but also psychological harm. It serves as a reminder that the law must adapt to evolving forms of criminal behavior.

Why Choose Us:

Our law coursework writing services are designed to assist students in tackling challenging coursework assignments with confidence and proficiency. Whether students need help with topic selection, research methodology, or structuring their coursework effectively, our experienced writers and tutors are dedicated to providing personalized support that helps students achieve academic excellence and succeed in their legal studies.

Cite This Work

Select a referencing style to export a reference for this article:

All Answers ltd, 'R v Ireland and Burstow' (Mylawtutor.net, September 2012 ) <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow> accessed 23 April 2024
My, Law, Tutor. (September 2012 ). R v Ireland and Burstow. Retrieved from https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow
"R v Ireland and Burstow." MyLawTutor.net. 9 2012. All Answers Ltd. 04 2024 <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow>.
"R v Ireland and Burstow." MyLawTutor. MyLawTutor.net, September 2012. Web. 23 April 2024. <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow>.
MyLawTutor. September 2012. R v Ireland and Burstow. [online]. Available from: https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow [Accessed 23 April 2024].
MyLawTutor. R v Ireland and Burstow [Internet]. September 2012. [Accessed 23 April 2024]; Available from: https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow.
<ref>{{cite web|last=Tutor |first=MyLaw |url=https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-ireland-and-burstow |title=R v Ireland and Burstow |publisher=MyLawTutor.net |date=September 2012 |accessdate=23 April 2024 |location=UK, USA}}</ref>

Related Cases

Dick Bentley v Harold Smith

. Last modified: April 15, 2024

Introduction to Dick Bentley v Harold Smith The world of contracts can be a complex one, especially when it comes to the interpretation of statements made during negotiations. Dick Bentley Productions Ltd v Harold Smith (Motors) Ltd [1965] stands as a significant case in English contract law, offering valuable insights into the distinction between a […]

Performance Cars v Abraham

. Last modified: April 15, 2024

Introduction to Performance Cars v Abraham Performance Cars Ltd v Abraham (1962) stands as a landmark case in English tort law, specifically regarding the concept of causation in negligence claims. This case study delves into the factual background, the legal issue at stake, the court’s decision and reasoning, and the lasting impact of the case […]

R v Hennessy – 1989

. Last modified: April 15, 2024

Introduction to R v Hennessy – 1989 The criminal justice system grapples with complex issues when a defendant’s actions seem involuntary due to a medical condition. R v Hennessy (1989) stands as a significant case in English law, delving into the boundaries of the defense of automatism in the context of diabetic hypoglycemia. This case […]

go to top