The charge of Assault
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If you are concerned you may be facing charges for assault, or are already facing charges, it is essential you contact us as quickly as possible. Phone us now on 0114 256 0111, or email us or use the form on this page.
Assault comes under two sections of law, the difference being the level of intent in the assault.
Unlawful wounding/inflicting grievous bodily harm, contrary to section 20 of the Act
This offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, either:
- wounds another person; or
- inflicts grievous bodily harm upon another person.
It is an either way offence, which carries a maximum penalty on indictment of five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Summarily, the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
Wounding means 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.
What is Grievous bodily harm?
Grievous bodily harm means really serious bodily harm. It is for the jury to decide whether the harm is really serious. However, examples of what would usually amount to really serious harm include:
- 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
The prosecution must prove under section 20 that either the defendant intended, or actually foresaw, that the act might cause some harm. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant either intended or foresaw that the unlawful act might cause physical harm of the gravity described in section 20. It is enough that the defendant foresaw some physical harm to some person, albeit of a minor character, might result.
This offence is capable of being racially/religiously aggravated under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Wounding/causing grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to section 18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
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 or detainer of any other person, either:
- wounds another person; or
- causes grievous bodily harm to another person.
It is an indictable only offence, which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.
The distinction between charges under section 18 and section 20 is one of intent. The gravity of the injury resulting is not the determining factor, although it may provide some evidence of intent.
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.
Common Assault, contrary to section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988
An offence of Common Assault is committed when a person either assaults another person or commits a battery.
An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force.
A battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another.
It is a summary offence, which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum. However, if the requirements of section 40 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 are met, then Common Assault can be included as a count on an indictment.
Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, contrary to section 47 Offences against the Person Act 1861
The offence is committed when a person assaults another, thereby causing Actual Bodily Harm (ABH). Bodily harm has its ordinary meaning and includes any hurt calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim: such hurt need not be permanent, but must be more than transient and trifling.
It is an either way offence, which carries a maximum penalty on indictment of five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
As stated in the Common Assault section of this Charging Standard, the factors in law that distinguish a charge under section 39 from a charge under section 47 are the degree of injury resulting and the sentencing powers available to the sentencing court.
Where the injuries exceed those that can suitably be reflected by Common Assault – namely where the injuries are serious.
In determining whether or not the injuries are serious, relevant factors may include, for example, the fact that there has been significant medical intervention and/or permanent effects have resulted. Examples may include cases where there is the need for a number of stitches (but not the superficial application of steri-strips) or a hospital procedure under anaesthetic.
Psychological harm that involves more than mere emotions such as fear, distress or panic can amount to ABH. In any case where psychiatric injury is relied upon as the basis for an allegation of ABH, and the matter is not admitted by the defence, expert evidence must be called by the prosecution.
Common Assault or ABH?
In law, the only factors that distinguish Common Assault from Assault occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (contrary to section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861) are the degree of injury that results and the sentence available to the sentencing court. But this latter factor is only relevant in the Crown Court. The magistrates’ court is able to pass exactly the same maximum penalty for both offences, namely six months’ imprisonment.
The offence of Common Assault carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment. This will provide the court with adequate sentencing powers in most cases. ABH is charged where the injuries and overall circumstances indicate that the offence merits clearly more than six months’ imprisonment and where the prosecution intend to represent that the case is not suitable for summary trial.
Defences to assaults
The following potential defences may commonly arise in assault cases, and it is important that these are properly considered in any decision to prosecute.
On a charge of Common Assault, it is necessary for the prosecution to prove absence of consent. It is possible for a lack of consent to be inferred from evidence other than direct evidence from the victim. Where actual or grievous bodily harm or a wound is caused, however, consent will be no defence in the absence of good reason.
Lawful correction/ reasonable chastisement of a child
Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 has removed the availability of the reasonable chastisement defence for parents or adults acting in loco parentis where the accused is charged with wounding, causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm or cruelty to persons less than 16 years of age. However the reasonable chastisement defence remains available for parents or adults acting in loco parentis against charges of common assault.
This article is based on public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0. The original information can be found here; https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/public-order-offences-incorporating-charging-standard