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The criminal offences of common assault, actual bodily harm (ABH) and grievous bodily harm (GBH) are governed by the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Common Assault

What is Common Assault?

Under Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act the offence will be committed when a person either assaults another person or commits a battery.

Will there be a prison sentence?

Common assault carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and/or a fine.

If someone is being charged for the first time it is unlikely that they will go to prison with a fine the usual outcome.  If the offender has previous convictions or if they were proven to have had a particular motivation for the attack, specifically if it is racially motivated this could however lead to a prison sentence. 

Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)

What is Actual Bodily Harm?

Assault causing actual bodily harm (ABH) is a criminal offence which is governed by Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act.

In this case the assault or battery needs to cause harm to the person’s body.  The harm is not necessarily serious but it would need to be more than a shove which would remain common assault.  Harm such as bruises, scratches and bite marks is sufficient.

What needs to be remembered when dealing with ABH is that there only needs to be intention to apply unlawful force not the intention to cause actual bodily harm.  If someone pushes another he will have intended to apply unlawful force.  If the person who was pushed then bangs his head this will be charged under Section 47 even if the defendant did not intend the victim to hurt their head.

Will there be a prison sentence?

ABH carries a maximum sentence of five years. 

As with common assault, if someone is being charged for the first time it is unlikely that they will go to prison with a fine the usual outcome.  Again, if the offender has previous convictions or if they were proven to have had a particular motivation for the attack, specifically if it is racially motivated this could however lead to a prison sentence.

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)

What is Grievous Bodily Harm?

Assault causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) is a criminal offence which is covered by Sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act. 

For this offence there needs to be “really serious harm” or the assault or battery needs to have resulted in the wounding of another person.  Probably the best example of this is someone stabbing another person.

Intention plays a key role when dealing with GBH.  If there was intention to cause some pain or harm but not to inflict the “really serious harm” this would fall under Section 20.  The offence under Section 20 is often called “wounding without intent”.    If there was intention to inflict this “really serious harm” then this would fall under Section 18 – the more serious offence.  

For example if a person head-butts another and breaks their nose they would be guilty of Section 20 if they had not specifically wanted to cause the damage, i.e. the broken nose.  If the person knew exactly what they were doing and intended to cause the damage then they would be guilty of Section 18 and charged accordingly.

Will there be a prison sentence?

Section 20 carries a maximum sentence of five years.  Section 18 can in some cases result in life imprisonment but in reality sentences over ten years are extremely rare. 

In the case of GBH the option of just a fine is not provided even if it is a first time offence.   Also in the case of GBH it is often likely that bail will be refused due to the violent nature of the offence.

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