Share Article: Grievous bodily harm/wounding

In legal shorthand we often refer to section 18 or 20 offences, these refer to specific offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

What is the difference between section 18 and section 20?

The most serious form of assault (short of attempt murder) is grievous bodily harm (GBH) or wounding (section 18).

The offence committed with intent carries life imprisonment, the same offence committed without intent (section 20) has a maximum sentence of 5 years.

The offence can be committed by maliciously wounding with or without intent to cause GBH or causing GBH with or without intent.

For an offence to be committed unlawfully and maliciously, it means that there is no defence such as self-defence, force used for preventing crime, defence of property or another.

There are also some other technical differences between the two offences.

What is GBH?

GBH or grievous bodily harm is really serious bodily harm so would include broken limbs for example, and it can also include psychiatric injury.

What is wounding?

Wounding is where the skin is broken (either internally or externally).

Section 18, the intent offence

For the more serious offence intent to cause serious injury or wounding is required.

A jury needs to be satisfied that the offender intended to cause the harm by considering all of the relevant circumstances, including what the offender did and what he said about it.

What about weapons?

The use of a weapon will make any offence more serious. Weapons include knives, bottles, throwing acid. Feet used to kick are also considered to be a weapon, and biting would also be an aggravating feature.

Section 20, the offence without intent

The offence is the same but that you did not intend to cause the injury. An example would be if you punch someone once and they fall causing a serious injury or wound.

It is easy to believe that you did not intend to cause such a serious injury. Your lack of intent may be taken from the way in which the assault was committed or your behaviour at the time and afterward.

What sentence will I get?

For an offence with intent it is almost inevitable that a term of imprisonment will be imposed. The guidelines range from 3 years for a less serious offence through to 16 years for the more serious offences.

Examples of sentences imposed are nine years when a bottle was used to strike the face requiring thirty stitches; nine years also imposed for causing a fractured arm with a baseball bat, knocking down and driving over a police officer, kicks to the head on the floor causing extensive facial fractures.

For offences under section 20 the maximum sentence is 5 years, so a non-custodial sentence is more likely. The guidelines range from a community order to 4 years imprisonment.

How can we help?

The difference in sentencing for the absence of intent means that this issue has to be considered carefully in the context of all of the evidence.

We can advise you whether intent and other offence elements can be proven, and the prospects, if appropriate, of a plea to the lesser offence being acceptable to the prosecution and the court.

The law is complicated and the potential consequences severe, for expert advice, please contact our Crime Team on 020 7935 3522 or  or in an emergency please call our 24/7 number 07973 259382 for further information or to discuss your case.

Whatever your personal circumstances the above is only a guide and we would advise you to contact us to obtain definitive advice as you will appreciate that each person’s circumstances are unique to them.

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