Boxing has existed since ancient Mesopotamia1 and it is still a popular sport today. It exists on many different levels, ranging from amateur lightweight boxing to professional heavyweight boxing. Boxing is currently a legal sport in England and Wales as long as competitors perform within the rules of the game. However, its legality may well be questioned due to the range of assaults that may be inflicted upon opponents during the course of the match. There are also policy reasons why boxing should be made illegal. These include the violent nature of the sport and the exploitation of boxers. The Law
Boxing is currently a legal sport and features in the Olympic Games, although it is banned by Sweden, Norway and Iceland. 2 However, many question its legality because it bears a resemblance to the illegal activity of prize fighting. In the case of R v. Coney,3 where prize fighting was found to be illegal, a distinction was made between prize fighting and boxing. The Court stated that prize fighting simply involved beating the opponent into submission whereas sparring was a skilful game in which points were scored. Cave J stated that 'a blow struck in sport and not likely or intended to cause bodily harm is not an assault'.
The aim of boxing is to score more points than your opponent and the most effective way of doing this is to knock them out. This will obviously cause bodily harm, which would have been intended or at least likely. We may not be able to see the harm caused at first but brain damage does occur during bouts. In 1986 Dr. Helen Grant looked inside the skull of Steve Watt, a boxer who had died during a fight. She found that he had died as a result of an internal bleed from a severed vein. In addition she found twenty lesions from that particular fight and hundreds of scars from past lesions, each scar representing a lost brain cell.
Therefore, it is evident that brain damage can result from a blow to the head but does this harm, which we cannot see at first, count as assault? A boxer could be guilty of actual bodily harm6 if he injured an opponent and interference with that opponent's health or comfort arose. 7 He could also be guilty of occasioning grievous bodily harm8 if he had caused a wound that broke the inner and outer layer of skin of his opponent. 9 The offending boxer would have the mens rea required to be guilty of these offences but the profession remains exempt.
Boxing, unlike prize fighting, has established rules and requires the participants to wear protective equipment. The Marquis of Queensbury rules were introduced in 1865 to try and make boxing a safer sport but in many ways, they 'have intensified the physicality of the sport'10 because the ten second knock out rule has encouraged boxers to be more vicious, with an increase in the number of head shots. If boxing were becoming too dangerous then one of the first steps that could be taken would be for the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council to introduce new rules to try to make the sport safer.
However, if the rules introduced in 1865 did not help make boxing become safer, there might be reason for Parliament to draft legislation to improve the safety of boxing or outlaw it altogether. Consent Assault is a criminal offence under English law. 11 However, the relationship between assault and contact sports is 'a matter of consent and policy'. 12 We have to ask whether consent to assault can act as a valid defence. In the case of Brown,13 the judges decided, with a majority of three to two, that consent could not be a defence.
Lord Mustill addressed the problem of sport, stating that boxing was concerned with money and not with recreation. He said that the competitors try to end the fight by 'inflicting a brain injury serious enough to make the defendant unconscious' and the reason why it stands exempt from our current law on violence is because 'society chooses to tolerate it'. 14 It was accepted in Brown that consent may be a defence to common assault but not to assault occasioning actual bodily harm or unlawful wounding but there should be exceptions to this rule depending on public interest.
Examples of these exceptions include surgery, tattooing and violent sports. 15 Therefore, on the authority of Brown, boxing would be legal. In the case of Wilson,16 a man branded his wife at her suggestion and the Court of Appeal said that this consent acted as a defence to actual bodily harm. Using the authority of this case it could be suggested that consent may be used as a defence to injury caused during boxing because those who take part agree to the fight.
If the branding had gone wrong in Wilson, then the wife would have to suffer the consequences because she ought to have known the risks that accompanied the activity she consented to. Under R v. Coney we would have to question the legality of boxing because Stephens J states that '(the) consent of the person who sustains the injury is no defence to the person who inflicts the injury'. 17 For example, an individual can consent to being killed by another but this is still murder, it is illegal. In Brown, Lord Slynn stated that consent must be 'full, free and must be as to the actual level of force used or pain inflicted'.
18 If this is so then we could question the legality of boxing because competitors may consent to one level of violence and not another. Their consent may also alter throughout the match. However, Health spokesman, John Sachville, MP, stated that 'individuals should have the freedom to participate in the activities of their choice so long as they are within the law and are fully aware of the risks involved'. 19 To what degree of assault can a boxer consent to? They might agree to all legal blows but sometimes mistakes happen and they might receive an illegal blow and acquire serious injuries.
A boxer might at first consent to a certain level of harm but if at sometime within the match he obtains an injury, his level of consent may change. Therefore, would the bout, which began as legal, develop into an illegal match? We can never be certain whether levels of consent do change and so it could be argued that consent should not be a defence in order to identify legal and illegal activities. However, this would mean introducing a ban on boxing and in R v. Coney, it was found that consent could be a defence to a charge of assault in relation to sparring.
In the case of Pallante v. Stadiums ply Ltd. ,21 a contender received injuries and brought an action against the stadium, the matchmaker, the referee, his trainer and his promoter but the courts said it was a prize fight and so was illegal. This makes it even more difficult to distinguish between prize fighting and boxing and in what circumstances boxing contests may be legal or illegal. In order to determine legality, attention should be paid to the intention of the parties and the mode and conditions of the contest.