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Our specialist team of GBH solicitors are here to help if you are being investigated for, or charged with, Grievous bodily harm.  This page sets out some general information about grievous bodily harm but it is vital that you speak to our GBH solicitors without delay to receive advice about your specific case.


Which legislation covers offences relating to Grievous Bodily Harm?

Firstly, Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 covers unlawful wounding/inflicting grievous bodily harm.

This offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, either:

  • wounds another person; or
  • inflicts grievous bodily harm upon another person.

Secondly, Section 18 of the Act covers wounding/causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

This offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, with intent to do some grievous bodily harm, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension of any person, either:

  • wounds another person; or
  • causes grievous bodily harm to another person.

What is the legal position regarding attempted wounding and attempted grievous bodily harm?

There is guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) regarding this, as follows:-

“It is not possible to attempt to commit a section 20 GBH offence.  An attempt to cause grievous bodily harm should be charged as an attempt section 18 because, as a matter of law if a suspect attempts to cause really serious harm he must necessarily intend to do so.  Similarly if a suspect attempts to cause a serious wound of a kind that would clearly amount to grievous bodily harm the offence would be attempted section 18.”

What is the legal definition of ‘wounding’, as it applies to the Act?

Wounding, in this context, is the ‘breaking of the continuity of the whole of the outer skin, or the inner skin within the cheek or lip. It does not include the rupturing of internal blood vessels.’

This definition includes minor injuries, such as small cuts or lacerations. If an assault resulted in less serious injuries such as these, then the more appropriate charge would be either Common Assault or ABH.


What type of wounding is covered by Section 20 of the Act?

Section 20 should be used for those assaults which result in really serious injuries.

Grievous bodily harm is deemed to be the same thing as really serious bodily harm.

Although the jury will ultimately make a decision as to whether the injuries are really serious, the following examples are given by the CPS regarding what harm would be included:-

  • injury resulting in permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement;
  • broken or displaced limbs or bones, including fractured skull, compound fractures, broken cheek bone, jaw, ribs, etc;
  • injuries which cause substantial loss of blood, usually necessitating a transfusion or result in lengthy treatment or incapacity;
  • serious psychiatric injury. As with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, appropriate expert evidence is essential to prove the injury


What distinction is made between Section 18 and Section 20 offences of the Act?

The difference between the two offences can be summarised as intent.

It is not the seriousness of the injury which is the determining factor, although this can give evidence of the intent motivating the assault.

Factors that may indicate the specific intent include:-

  • a repeated or planned attack;
  • deliberate selection of a weapon or adaptation of an article to cause injury, such as breaking a glass before an attack;
  • making prior threats;
  • using an offensive weapon against, or kicking the victim’s head.


Does this legislation cover the reckless transmission of sexual infection?

Yes. Such cases will usually be charged under Section 20 of the Act.

These cases are very complex and specialist advice should be sought at an early stage.


What are the sentencing powers for these offences?

The Section 20 offence is an either way offence (which means sentencing can take place at either the magistrates’ or crown court). It carries a maximum penalty on indictment of five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine (crown court). If sentencing takes place at the magistrates’ court, then the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding the statutory minimum.

The Section 18 offence, is an indictable only offence, which means it will start in the magistrates’ court, then be committed up to the crown court for sentencing. It carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, so you can see why it is vital that you consult our GBH solicitors at the earliest possible opportunity.


If you have been charged with an offence relating to causing, or attempting to cause, grievous bodily harm, contact our GBH solicitors today on 01623 600645 for free initial advice.

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