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Grievous Bodily Harm

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Offences against the Person Act 1861, s.18

18. Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm

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 an offence, and being convicted thereof shall be liable ... to imprisonment for life ... .

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Offences against the Person Act 1861, s.20

20. Inflicting bodily injury, with or without weapon

Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or without any weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable ... to imprisonment ... for not more than five years.

Section 18 created three offences (wounding, causing grievous bodily harm and shooting), any of which could be committed with any of the intents specified; the intents may be laid in the alternative: R. v. Naismith[1961].

The reference to shooting was repealed by the CLA 1967, s.10(2), and Sched. 3.

An indictment, of which the statement of offence read "Inflicting grievous bodily harm, contrary to section 18 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861", and of which the particulars alleged that the defendants "unlawfully inflicted grievous bodily harm" on the victim, was defective, but not a nullity: R. v. Hodgson (Liam)[2008].As to whether an indictment should routinely contain a count under section 20 as an alternative allegation to one under section 20, see R. v. Lahaye (Dean John) ([2005]

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Alternative verdicts

On a charge of wounding with intent, "unlawful wounding" contrary to section 20 and assault occasioning actual bodily harm contrary to section 47 of the 1861 Act are alternatives, as will be the section 47 offence on a charge of unlawful wounding contrary to section 20: Common assault will be a further alternative wherever assault occasioning actual bodily harm is an alternative: see section 6(3A) of the CLA 1967.

On a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to section 18, verdicts of wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm, contrary to section 20, or of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, contrary to section 47 (or common assault), are available alternatives. Where the ulterior intent may be in issue (even though not the primary issue), such a course has obvious practical advantages; but it is submitted that there should be no such universal rule. What good practice dictates will ultimately depend on the facts of the particular case, and there are many cases where the inclusion of a count under section 20 will serve only to distract the attention of the jury.

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Grievous Bodily Harm


"Grievous bodily harm" should be given its ordinary and natural meaning of really serious bodily harm, and it is undesirable to attempt any further definition of it.It is not necessary that grievous bodily harm should be either permanent or dangerous Nor is it a pre-condition that the victim should require treatment or that the harm would have lasting consequences; in assessing whether particular harm was "grievous", account had to be taken of the effect on, and the circumstances of, the particular

Cases of joint enterprise

Where several persons inflict injuries on a victim, it is the totality of the injuries which are to be considered in relation to a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent contrary to section 18. It is immaterial that one person joins in the attack slightly after the others have begun to inflict injuries, which may have included the most serious single injury. He is aiding the commission of the offence and participating in it as soon as he joins in.

"Cause" or "inflict"

It was formerly accepted that "causing" was wider than "inflicting" and that where the allegation was of causing grievous bodily harm, the issue was a straightforward one of causation. Did the injury result from the act of the accused?

"Unlawfully and maliciously"

The requirement in both sections that the wounding or grievous bodily harm be unlawful imports no more than that self-defence, defence of others, defence of property, force used for the purpose of prevention of crime are all potential "defences": If raised, the burden of negative self-defence, defence of others, etc., is on the prosecution.


The word "wound" in section 18 includes incised wounds, punctured wounds, lacerated wounds, contused wounds and gun-shot wounds. But to constitute a wound within the statute, the continuity of the skin must be broken: R. v. Wood(1830) in other words, the outer covering of the body (that is, the whole skin, not the mere cuticle or upper skin) must be divided. .The rupture of blood vessels internally is not sufficient to constitute a wound - there must be a break in the continuity of the whole skin.

In R. v. Shadbolt(1835) 5 C. & P. 504, the skin broken had been that inside the mouth and in R. v. Waltham(1849) 3 Cox 442, there had been a rupture of the lining membrane of the urethra, which had caused blood to issue. In each case the injury had been held to constitute a wound.

With intent

On an allegation of an intent to cause grievous bodily harm, the jury should be directed in the following or very similar terms: "You must feel sure that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm to the victim. You can only decide what his intention was by considering all the relevant circumstances and in particular what he did and what he said about it.

Where the defendant is charged with wounding A with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm, but the evidence establishes that whilst he wounded A, the blow had been aimed at B, he cannot be convicted of the offence charged. ears. 559). But if a person who, in legitimate self-defence, shoots at A with the necessary intent, misses and hits B who poses him no threat, he will not be guilty of the offence in respect of B. Where there is a generalised intent to do grievous bodily harm, though not directed at any individual, but merely at a crowd, this is sufficient.

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Offences against the Person Act 1861, s.47

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

47. Punishment of assaults

Whosoever shall be convicted on indictment of any assault occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable to imprisonment for not more than five years.

As to racially aggravated assault occasioning actual bodily harm,

(4) Sentence


Imprisonment not exceeding five years

(5) Ingredients of the offence

The assault

As to what constitutes an "assault" generally. Whether or not there was an assault cannot depend on whether or not bodily harm was suffered by the alleged victim, yet in DPP v. Santa-Bermudez, , it was held that where someone (by act or word or a combination of the two) creates a danger and thereby exposes another to a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury which materialises, there is an evidential basis for the actus reus of an assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The case concerned a police officer who pricked her finger on a needle whilst conducting a search of the defendant's pockets, having been told by him that there was nothing sharp therein. The court did not address the issue as to what constituted the assault. A second difficulty with the court's formulation is that it is well-established that proof of this offence has never required that the harm should have been foreseen or foreseeable. The court did not have the benefit of full argument.

Intention Mens rea

The mens rea of assault occasioning actual bodily harm is the same as for common assault. The only extra ingredient which has to be proved is that the assault in fact occasioned actual bodily harm.

Actual bodily harm

"Bodily harm" has its ordinary meaning and includes any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim; such hurt or injury need not be permanent, but must be more than merely transient or trifling: R. v. Donovan[1934]. It may include the cutting off of a substantial part of a person's hair: DPP v. Smith[2006] or a momentary loss of consciousness; where there is injurious impairment to the victim's sensory functions, "it is axiomatic that the bodily harm was actual": T v. DPP[2003] .Actual bodily harm is capable of including psychiatric injury but it does not include mere emotions, such as fear, distress or panic. Without appropriate expert evidence, the question whether an assault had occasioned psychiatric injury should not be left to the jury. In a case of "non-physical assault" ("stalking"), if the prosecution rely on symptoms described by the victim (fright/anxiety/physical aches and pains) as evidence of bodily harm, there should be expert evidence to prove that the symptoms other than pain amounted to psychological illness or injury and that the pains experienced were the result of the conduct complained of.

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