skip to main content

A Guide To ABH/GBH

Actual bodily harm (ABH) and grievous bodily harm (GBH) are two different types of assault, and they’re both criminal offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Police Act 1996. They can both be committed either intentionally or recklessly; however, the severity of the consequences for these two crimes can vary considerably.

Actual Bodily Harm

ABH is assault or battery that causes harm to a person’s body. The harm does not need to be serious to be classed as ABH, however, it does need to be more significant than a push or shove. Harm that consists of bruises, scratches or bite marks would be sufficient enough to be classed as ABH, but the most important factor when convicting an individual of actual bodily harm is that the offender only needs to intend to apply unlawful force, not intending to cause injury. So if a push results in someone hitting their head against a wall, it is more likely to be ABH than GBH or common assault because the intention was to use unlawful force, rather than causing a head injury. ABH can be tried in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.

Grievous Bodily Harm

There needs to be ‘really serious harm’ caused to the victim for an assault to be classed as grievous bodily harm. For example, if injury resulted in permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement, then it would usually amount to really serious harm. This can also be the case for assaults which result in broken bones, serious psychiatric injuries or a substantial loss of blood – usually necessitating a transfusion, lengthy treatment or incapacity.

GBH covers two offences:

  • Unlawful wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm (section 20, Offences against the person act 1861).
  • Causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm/Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm (section 18, Offences against the person act 1861).

With unlawful wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm, there must be breaking of the skin, or the breaking of the inner skin, but this does not include the rupturing of blood vessels. The maximum sentence for this offence is 5 years and cases can be heard in the magistrates’ or Crown Court. To be convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm, the offender must have intended to cause serious physical harm to the victim. The maximum sentence for a section 18 offence is life imprisonment and cases can only be heard in the Crown Court.

How are they different from Common Assault?

Common assault is another category and it is the least serious. Many people believe that an individual convicted of common assault is likely to have inflicted violence on another person, but that actually doesn’t have to be the case. You do not have to be physically violent to be convicted of common assault. For example, using threatening words, spitting at a person or raising a fist could lead the victim to believe they are going to be attacked. This can be enough for the crime to have been committed.

If violence is used in a common assault, it is called a “battery” and the individual would likely be charged with “assault by beating”. The victim may not have been ‘beaten up’ or even struck with a punch or a kick – it could be that they were pushed, grabbed or spat at.

Are there any other types of assault?

Yes, though the three above are the main types, there are additional categories. One of which is assault with intent to resist arrest. This offence occurs when an individual commits common assault at the time of a lawful arrest (or detention with the aim of resisting or stopping the arrest), and this offence may result in a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years. Another type is assault on a police constable in execution of his duty, and this is essentially a common assault on police or prison officers, or an individual who is helping them. It can lead to a fine or a jail sentence of up to 26 weeks.

You may have also heard of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. This type of assault can be intentional or reckless but must have caused some physical harm to the victim. It does not necessarily need to be serious or permanent, however, it will need to be more than ‘transient or trifling’. Common assault can only be tried in the Magistrates’ Court and carries a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment, however, the sentence is often a fine or a community penalty.

Can the sentences for assault charges be reduced?

It is possible, however, it’s difficult to generalise because the facts of an individual case are paramount to a reduction in a sentence. If you, or an individual you know, is convicted of assault, it’s important to appoint an expert criminal defence solicitor, such as Noble Solicitors, as soon as possible. The team can then review the facts of the case to highlight key elements that should be brought to the court’s attention. An experienced defence solicitor will have a strong understanding on how courts apply these characteristics to successfully reinforce a legal defence case, so do ensure you choose a solicitor with proven experience in this sector.

At Noble Solicitors, we represent clients at Police Stations, Magistrates’ Courts, Crown Courts, and at Appeal Courts such as the Court of Appeal, and every member of our team has a wealth of expertise in case building that is based on a sound knowledge of the criminal justice system. We can advise on all criminal charges that involve offences against the person, whether that be common assault, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm.

Read next article

Noble Solicitors – Fighting For You
Always Protecting Your Rights.
07000 81 82 83