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GBH – grievous bodily harm – is a  criminal offence in contravention of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA). 

There are 2 classifications of assault under UK law:

  1. Section 18 – intentionally inflicted GBH and wounding with the intent to cause GBH
  2. Section 20 –  inflicting GBH and wounding without intent to cause GBH

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at Lawtons Solicitors, discusses this complex area of the law and its implications if you are found guilty.

What is GBH in the UK?

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) is a criminal offence which relates to Section 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA). Although both sections are commonly referred to as GBH, the difference between the two sections is significant.

The law governing GBH dates back to 1861 and has evolved through decisions of the courts over the last 150-plus years.

What is Section 18 within UK law?

Section 18 specifically refers to intentionally inflicted GBH and wounding with the intent to cause GBH.

Section 18 of the Offences Against The Person Act reads:

“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.”

Section 18 GBH is considerably more serious than Section 20 GBH, due to the level of intent involved. As such, the seriousness of this offence is reflected in the potential consequences for individuals found guilty or pleading guilty to this offence. The minimum prison sentence for intentionally inflicted GBH depends on the circumstances involved, however, the maximum can be as severe as a life sentence – 25 years’ imprisonment.

What’s the difference between Section 18 and Section 20?

There can be a fine line between Section 18 and 20 assault, depending on what was intended or was going through the mind of the offender at the time when the assault took place.

To prosecute an individual for Section 18 GBH there must be proof that the hostility to the victim was motivated and that the defendant had full intention to cause grievous bodily harm through the use of unlawful force.

The injury – although it may affect the severity of the sentence – is not a determining factor in distinguishing whether GBH was committed recklessly or intentionally. Often however, it may provide some evidence of intent i.e. if the defendant left home in possession of a sharp knife, then located and stabbed the victim.

The prosecution and the police will sometimes assert that if the injuries are very serious or life threatening that it must have been the case that the offender had intended to cause them.

In law, this is what is known as a rebuttable presumption, whereby it is possible to refute this assertion by calling defence evidence to show that as much as the injuries may have been caused by the offender, it was not their intention to have done so.

In these types of scenarios, it may be the case that the offence is more akin to an offence contrary to Section 20 OAPA on the basis that the injuries had been caused recklessly rather than intentionally.

‘Mens rea’ in GBH cases

The ‘Mens Rea’ in GBH cases refers to the state of mind of the defendant at the time when an offence may have been committed and whether the individual intended to cause serious injuries, or whether their behaviour was simply reckless rather than premeditated.

For a Section 18 GBH charge to be proven, it must be shown that the offender physically caused the serious injuries and at the same time as the assault took place that this is what they intended to cause. It is the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime.

For a case to be considered under Section 18, identifying reckless behaviour in the actions of the offender will not be sufficient enough to find an accused individual guilty. The act must be malicious in nature and deliberate, indicating malice aforethought often with a degree of premeditation.

Factors which may indicate higher levels of culpability for GBH with intent include:

  • A repeated or sustained attack
  • Evidence of planning of the attack
  • The deliberate choice of an offensive weapon or an equivalent such as a razor blade
  • Unlawful force such as kicking the victim’s head with a shod foot
  • Evidence of prior threats

In cases of Section 18 GBH, it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove the presence of these mental elements. It requires close examination of the accused individual’s motives, objectives and close scrutiny of their actions. It is for this reason that cases are complex and often stressful for everyone involved.

The element of intent adds a different layer of complexity to Section 18 charges, beyond that of any other assault charge. If you are arrested by the police for a Section 18 offence, then you should seek expert legal assistance as soon as possible.

The police begin to build a case against you from the very moment you are arrested and these early stages are often pivotal in determining the severity of the offence, plus they may provide the opportunity to advance your defence.

To give yourself the best possible opportunity to achieve a positive outcome, act on the advice of a solicitor who is an expert  in serious violence and assault cases.

Due to the nature of Section 18 offences and the need to determine the presence of intent, it is essential you consult an expert in these cases to reduce any complexities and achieve a more positive outcome. Get in touch with the team at Lawtons to see how we can help you.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor  with considerable experience in the most serious legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex cases.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.