British high court rules involuntary haircut equivalent to assault
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British high court rules involuntary haircut equivalent to assault

In the first ever case of its kind, two senior judges on the High Court devoted an hour yesterday to debating the legal implications of an involuntary haircut. Overturning a decision by local magistrates in Dudley, West Midlands, Sir Igor Judge (president of the Queen’s Bench) and Mr. Justice Creswell ultimately ruled that hair can be considered a person’s “crowning glory” and that its involuntary removal can lead to a charge of assault occasioning bodily harm (ABH).

The case stems from an April 2005 incident in Netherton, Dudley. According to the case file, Michael Ross Smith cut off the ponytail of his sometime girlfriend, 20 year-old Michelle Tether, when she awoke him from a nap. Dudley allegedly held Tether down on the bed, and used kitchen scissors to cut off her ponytail and other hair without her consent. Tether fled the scene with the ponytail, and later called police, who went to Smith’s house and retrieved some of the shorn hair from his mother’s vacuum cleaner.

In June, magistrates in Dudley refused to convict Smith, stating that there was no evidence to prove he had caused Tether bodily harm, an essential element in the charge. In reviewing the case, the High Court refused to accept the argument that human hair is dead and so its removal cannot cause bodily harm. Explaining that hair (whether above or below the surface of the skin) was a part of the human body, the High Court ruled that cutting it off met the requirements of a charge of ABH.

Creswell called hair “a vitally important part” of the human body, especially for women, and called the involuntary haircut “a serious matter- not trivial or insignificant- amounting to bodily harm.” Sir Igor pointed out the intrinsic role hair plays in self-identity, calling and individual’s hair “relevant to his or her autonomy…their crowning glory.”

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