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Assault GBH

The offences of wounding and GBH are found under two separate sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. GBH meaning grievous bodily harm. A conviction of wounding or GBH under S. 20 represents the lesser offence which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment. Wounding and GBH under S.18 is a more serious offence and carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. There are common elements of the two offences. The main difference between the offences under s.18 and s.20 relate to the mens rea. Also the offence under s.20 is triable-either-way, whereas the offence of grievous bodily harm under s.18 is indictable.

S.20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861

S.20 OAPA 1861 provides:

“whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm on any other person, either with or without a weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of a misdeamenour”

Actus reus of the s.20 offence

Unlawfully Wound or inflict GBH on another person


Some wounding or GBH may be classed as lawful. This covers those who are acting in self defence or prevention of crime and in limited circumstances where the victim has consented eg surgical interference and where the injury results from properly conducted games and sports. For more detailed review of the circumstances in which consent may operate see the lecture outline on consent. Lawful chastisement R v Hopley (1860) 2 F&F 202 (Case summary) or reasonable punishment of a child is not available to the offences of wounding or GBH (S.58 Children Act 2004).


A wound exists where there is a break in the continuity of the skin:

Moriarty v Brookes [1834] EWHC Exch J79 Case summary

An internal rupture of blood vessels will not constitute a wound:

C (a minor) v Eisenhower [1984] QB 331 Case summary

Grievous Bodily harm

Grievous bodily harm means really serious harm:

DPP v Smith [1961] AC 290 Case summary

If the victim is particularly vulnerable, the jury is entitled to take this into account when assessing if the injury is really serious:

R v Bollom [2004] 2 Cr App R 6 Case summary

The question of what amounts to really serious harm is to be objectively assessed:

R v Brown and Stratton [1997] EWCA Crim 2255 Case summary

GBH includes psychiatric injury:

R v Burstow [1997] 3 WLR 534 Case summary


The use of the word inflict in s.20 has given rise to some difficulty. It has been held to include indirect application of force:

R v Martin (1881) 8 QBD 54 Case summary

Originally the courts interpreted inflict to mean that there must be proof of an assault or battery:

R v Clarence (1889) 22 QB 23 Case summary

More recently inflict was interpreted to mean the direct or indirect application of force:

R v Wilson [1984] AC 242 Case summary

In the context of psychiatric injury, the word inflict simply means cause. There is no requirement of assault or battery or direct or indirect application of force:

R v Burstow [1997] 3 WLR 534 Case summary

Mens rea of wounding or GBH under s.20

The defendant must have the intention or be reckless as to the causing of some harm. There is no need for the prosecution to establish that they intended or was reckless as to causing serious harm:

R v Savage [1991] 94 Cr App R 193 Case summary

Subjective recklessness applies (the defendant must foresee the risk of causing some harm):

R v Parmenter [1991] 94 Cr App R 193 Case summary

S.18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861

S.18 provides:

“Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person, with intent, to do some grievous bodily harm to any person, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person, shall be guilty of felony.”

Actus reus of the s.18 offence

Unlawfully wound or cause GBH on any person

Since the decision in Burstow there is little difference between in the actus reus under s.20 and s.18. The one difference is that the offence under s.20 must be committed on another person whereas s.18 can be committed on any person and thus would cover those who intentionally wound or inflict GBH on themselves.

Mens rea

The mens rea under s.18 requires either:

Intention to cause GBH or Intention to resist or prevent the lawful detainer of any person.

assault_gbh.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/22 13:23 by phil