Legislation: Offences Against the Person Act 1861 s 20
Racially aggravated common assault: Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s 29
Definition: This offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, either:
- wounds another person; or
- inflicts grievous bodily harm upon another person.
Explanation: 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.
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.
Mode of trial:Triable either way
Maximum sentence: 6 months (Magistrates’ Court) 5 years (Crown Court) 7 years (racially aggravated offence, in the Crown Court only)
Examples: Punches, kicks, head-butts, and the use of weapons where injuries such as a laceration or incised wound. Injuries caused by bottles or knives may constitute GBH. Recklessly passing on a sexually transmitted infection may constitute a section 20 GBH.
CPS guidance: The definition of wounding may encompass injuries that are relatively minor in nature, for example a small cut or laceration. An assault resulting in such minor injuries should more appropriately be charged as Common Assault or, where a sentence of more than 6 months’ imprisonment is likely, ABH. An offence contrary to section 20 should be reserved for those wounds considered to be really serious (thus equating the offence with the infliction of grievous, or serious, bodily harm under the other part of the section).