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Criminal Defences

Guide to Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) with Intent Defences

Learn more about defences that can be used for the offence of Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) with Intent

grievous bodily harm

If you have been charged with grievous bodily harm with intent, you are probably feeling worried. Whilst you have reason to be concerned, as this is a serious offence, don’t panic. Take time to seek advice from a solicitor and consider your options. Depending on the circumstances, there might be a defence that you can rely upon to get a lesser sentence or avoid prison altogether. This article begins by explaining the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent and how this differs from grievous bodily harm. After examining the types of evidence that the prosecution might rely upon in your case, the article considers the maximum sentence you could face and possible defences that might be available to you.

An overview of the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent

Section 18 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 sets out the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent. This is a different, more serious offence than grievous bodily harm. The court will consider two questions.

  1. Was grievous bodily harm caused to the victim?

Grievous bodily harm (GBH) can be defined as really serious bodily harm. This could include punching, kicking, or wounding such as by stabbing. Grievous bodily harm can be committed with or without a weapon. It is the most severe assault charge that can be laid against a person in relation to physical harm. The key consideration when deciding whether to charge for GBH or a lesser offence, is the level of harm done to the victim. If the victim needs significant or sustained medical treatment, this is likely to lead to a charge of GBH. The level of harm will be assessed by looking at the injuries caused to that particular victim, not how much your actions would harm an average person. For example, if the victim suffered from an unseen disability that meant that the assault led to internal injuries, whereas a healthy person would not have been harmed so seriously, the court will judge your actions by the harm caused by the disabled victim in question.

  1. Did you intend to cause grievous bodily harm to the victim?

This is where the offences of GBH and GBH with intent differ. For GBH, you only need to intend to cause some harm to the victim. To be convicted of GBH with intent, the jury must believe that at the time of committing the offence, you intended to wound the victim or otherwise inflict the serious level of harm that was caused. For example, did you plan the attack? Did you select or make a weapon ahead of time? Using an offensive weapon upon or kicking a person’s head is also taken as a sign that you intended serious harm.

What kind of evidence is used in grievous bodily harm with intent cases?

The prosecution will need to prove that it was you who caused the victim harm. In order to establish this, the police may seek to use your biometric information to link you to the victim, weapon, or scene of the crime. In addition, CCTV evidence and witness testimonies of anyone who was present may be used to prove your involvement in events.

To show the seriousness of the harm, the prosecution may rely upon medical records of the victim. They may also show photographs of the injuries. In some cases, medico-legal expects will be used to testify to the likely prognosis of the victim. For example, how debilitating are their injuries and will they make a full recovery?

The prosecution will also need to show that you intended to cause serious harm. Your testimony in respect of what happened will probably form an important part of your defence. For example, what was going through your mind at the time of events? Was the attack premeditated or did it occur in the spur of the moment? Seek specialist advice from a criminal defence solicitor who will advise you on your options in respect of giving evidence or exercising your right to remain silent.

What is the maximum sentence for grievous bodily harm with intent?

The maximum sentence for GBH with intent under Section 18 is life imprisonment, which in reality means a custodial sentence of 16 years. However, it could be much less. The shortest sentence that you could face is three years’ imprisonment. When deciding upon your sentence, the court will consider your culpability (blameworthiness) and the harm caused to the victim. Examples of high culpability include significant planning, gang activity, the intention to cause more harm than was caused, and the use of a weapon. Harm is interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the word.

For instance, say you, operating as part of a gang, purchased a gun and shot the victim in the leg causing them severe blood loss – this would receive a high sentence, towards the top end of the sentence range. The court would find you more culpable because of the pre-meditated nature of procuring a gun in order to commit the offence and because you were involved in gang activity. By contrast, if you became involved in a fight, during which you kicked the victim once in the head, you would probably face a shorter sentence because the incident did not involve significant planning, or a weapon, or the intention to cause more harm than was caused.

Detailed GBH with intent sentencing guidelines can be found here.

What are the applicable grievous bodily harm with intent defences? 

  • Accident: If you have been charged with GBH with intent, you may be able to rely on the defence of accident. This could apply where you did intend to cause some harm, but the harm became more serious as a result of an accident. This could lead to you being convicted of a less serious offence.
  • Consent: There is a legal debate around whether you can defend a charge of GBH with intent on the grounds that the victim consented to the activity. This has been used by defendants charged in relation to harm caused by sadomasochistic sexual activities. However, courts have suggested that consent is not a justification for intending to cause someone really serious harm.

General defences

There are a number of other defences that might apply to your case. These are called ‘general defences’, and they are called such because they apply generally to many different types of criminals (not the crimes they commit).

Self-defence: If someone is violent towards you or you believe that they are about to be, the law says that you can use the force that is reasonably necessary to defend yourself. Self-defence will only be a valid defence if the harm that you caused was proportionate to the threat that you faced (i.e. you cannot shoot someone who threatened to punch you).

Duress: Were you were forced or pressurised by someone to commit the offence? If so, this defence could apply. The court will consider whether you reasonably feared death or serious injury if you did not commit the act, and whether a reasonable person in your situation would have shared those fears and responded in the same way.

Automatism: If you were not aware of your actions when committing the offence, in some rare circumstances, you may be able to rely upon the defence of automatism. For example, this has been used for offences committed whilst sleepwalking. Generally, if you were under the voluntary influence of alcohol or illicit drugs you will not be able to rely on this defence.

Insanity: If the court finds that due mental illness, you lacked the ability to reason such that you did not know that the act that you were doing was against the law, you may be acquitted on the grounds of insanity. If you succeed in this defence, you could be detained under the Mental Health Act of 1983 on the basis that your mental condition poses a risk to others in society.

Intoxication: The courts are reluctant to accept voluntary intoxication (i.e. choosing to consume drugs and alcohol) as an excuse for criminal behaviour. However, if you were intoxicated when the incident happened, you may be able to rely upon this to show that you did not have the necessary mental intention to commit the offence. This could lead to you being convicted of a lesser offence.

Mistake: This defence could apply if you were mistaken as to certain factual circumstances and would not have committed the offence if you had known otherwise. The court will consider whether your belief was honest but mistaken, and if it was reasonable in the circumstances (again, taking into account what is reasonable for the ordinary person, not reasonable to you).

What will a successful defence achieve?

A successful defence may lead to you being acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge. Providing intent to cause grievous bodily harm is a high threshold for the prosecution to meet. If the jury finds that you intended some harm, but not serious harm, then you could be convicted of grievous bodily harm instead.

Where can I find help with grievous bodily harm with intent offences?

If you have been charged with grievous bodily harm with intent, and you think that you may have a valid defence, contact Stuart Miller Solicitors today for a no-obligation consultation. Our team of criminal defence experts has years of experience defending cases of this nature, and we will provide friendly and professional advice tailored to the facts of your case.


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