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Have you been charged with grievous bodily harm? If so, you are probably feeling worried and anxious. Perhaps you are replaying the events that have taken place and wondering what will happen at your upcoming trial. This article provides an overview of the offence of grievous bodily harm and looks at the kind of evidence that is likely to come up in your case. After outlining the maximum sentence you could receive for this offence, we then turn to the defences that you may be able to rely upon to reduce your sentence or avoid conviction altogether.
Grievous bodily harm (GBH) is basically ‘really serious bodily harm’. It includes, among other things, harm caused through violence such as through punching or kicking. It also includes wounding, for example by cutting or stabbing. The offence is set out at Section 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It is the most serious type of assault charge which can be laid against a person in relation to physical harm. Note that the offence can be committed with or without a weapon.
What distinguishes GBH from the less serious charges of actual bodily harm and common assault is the level of harm done to the victim. Usually, the need for significant or sustained medical treatment by the victim will lead to a charge of GBH. The level of harm will be assessed with reference to the particular victim. For example, if the victim was an elderly or vulnerable, this will be taken into account and will increase the seriousness of the offence.
There is also a more serious offence of grievous bodily harm with intent. You could be convicted of this offence if the jury believes that at the time of committing the offence, you intended to inflict that very serious level of harm that was caused. This offence also includes circumstances where you have intentionally seriously injured or wounded someone in an attempt to avoid arrest.
Racially or religiously aggravated GBH is another highly serious form of this offence. This offence is said to occur where the defendant was motivated in committing the alleged crime by racial or religious hostility.
The prosecution will need to prove that you committed the act that led to the harm. For this purpose, they are likely to gather CCTV evidence and witness testimonies of anyone who was present. If you have been charged with GBH with intent, the prosecution will also need to show that you intended to cause serious harm. For this charge especially, your evidence in respect of what happened is likely to form an important part of your defence. Not everyone should give their account, however, so you should consult a solicitor who will advise you on your options in this respect.
The prosecution will also need to prove that the harm was of a ‘serious’ nature. To do this, they are likely to refer to the medical records of the victim and may instruct a medico-legal expert to comment on the harm that was caused to the victim. For example, the expert may seek to show that the injuries caused by the GBH worsened existing medical conditions that the victim suffers from, or that they were particularly bad because of a pre-existing condition (that you may or may not have known about).
The maximum sentence for GBH is 5 years imprisonment. You will not necessarily receive a custodial sentence, however. For less serious offences, you may receive a community order. For religiously or racially motivated GBH, the maximum sentence is 7 years imprisonment. More information on sentencing for GBH can be found here.
The maximum sentence for GBH with intent (the more serious offence) is life imprisonment. If you are convicted of this offence you will receive a custodial sentence of between 2 and 16 years. The court will consider your culpability (blameworthiness) and the harm caused to the victim when deciding on the length of your sentence. It will also consider other factors including whether you have previous convictions or have previously been violent towards the same victim. Detailed GBH with intent sentencing guidelines can be found here.
In some circumstances, you may be able to rely upon what is called a ‘general defence’ to GBH. General defences relate to the person accused rather than the crime itself. General defences include:
Defences are a complex area of the law and you should consult a solicitor for advice on the specific facts of your case if you intend to rely on one at trial.
A successful defence may lead to you being acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge, such as actual bodily harm or common assault. Whether you have a viable defence depends on the particular facts of your case, so consult a solicitor for specialist advice.
If you or a loved one has been accused of grievous bodily harm, Stuart Miller Solicitors is here to help. Our expert and experienced team will provide you with robust advice on your case and realistic guidance on the options that are available to you. Contact us today to arrange a friendly no obligation consultation.
(This page was last updated on November 22, 2023.)
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