What does GBH stand for in the UK?

Grievous bodily harm – or GBH – is the most serious form of non-fatal assault as the injuries are deemed to cause serious detriment to a victim’s health, which differs to ABH. GBH is also known as ‘wounding with intent’.

GBH can be committed in two ways, which affect the level of severity of offence. The difference between the two levels of assault depends on whether the crime was committed intentionally or recklessly.

What is classified as GBH within UK law?

The following injuries are classified as GBH:

  • An injury resulting in permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement
  • Broken bones – including a fractured skull, compound fractures, broken cheekbone, jaw or ribs
  • Injuries that cause a substantial loss of blood
  • Serious psychiatric injury

If a defendant is charged with committing GBH without intent, it does not necessarily mean that they inflicted less severe injuries to the victim. All of the above injuries can be inflicted intentionally or recklessly and it is this factor that will ultimately determine the charge and punishment given for the offence.

Section 20 assault

A Section 20 assault is committed if the defendant:

  1. Unlawfully wounds another person (using unlawful force)
  2. Inflicts grievous bodily harm on another person

It is not possible to attempt to commit a Section 20 GBH offence. If a defendant attempts to cause a victim serious harm, it must be assumed that they intended to do so. In order to be charged for GBH without intent, it must be considered that the act was reckless and committed without intention.

Under Section 20 GBH, the defendant lacks the necessary mens rea – the knowledge or intention of wrongdoing – for the more serious offence, meaning the defendant did not have the intention.

Seriously harming a victim without intent is classified as a Section 20 assault – a less serious form of GBH. Section 20 assault, unlike Section 18 assault which is intentional – can be heard in both the magistrates’ court and crown court, albeit a case will normally be dealt with in the latter.

Section 20 GBH sentencing guidelines

A section 20 assault committed in the UK carries a maximum custodial sentence of five years and/or an unlimited fine. If tried and found guilty in a magistrates’ court, the maximum penalty is a custodial sentence of six months and/or a fine.  

What is the difference between a Section 18 and a Section 20 assault?

The main difference between a Section 18 and a Section 20 assault is the issue of intent. The ultimate severity of an injury does not determine the classification of the offence or indeed the resulting sentence, although it can go some way towards determining intent.

Factors indicating an assault should be classified as a section 18 rather than a section 20 include:

  1. Evidence of a planned or repeated attack
  2. Prior threats
  3. The deliberate selection of a weapon
  4. Adapting or altering an item with the intention of causing harm, such as smashing a glass prior to an attack
  5. Using a weapon on the victim’s head, or kicking the victim in the head

What to do if you’re arrested for assault

If you are arrested by police for GBH, then your first step should be to seek immediate legal representation, as the police begin building a case against you from the moment you are arrested.

Even if you’ve already been represented by the duty solicitor at the police station, you can instruct the team of criminal defence solicitors at Lawtons, who are experts in this complex area of criminal law. We are available to represent accused individuals 24-hours a day to protect your rights and help you achieve the best chance of a positive outcome. Contact us to discuss your options and how we can help you to prepare the best case from the outset.