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There is no doubt that a Section 18 wounding with intent offence is a serious one. If you or someone you care about is facing a charge or are already being prosecuted for a Section 18 wounding with intent offence, you are likely very concerned about what it means and what might happen next if things go to trial. This article is written to help you in this regard, providing more detail on what constitutes a Section 18 offence and what might happen if you are charged with one. We will explore the critical points the prosecution must prove in such cases, the nature of this offence, examples of crimes that might be charged under Section 18, the sentence for a Section 18 offence, potential defences, and finally, where to seek further help.
Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 relates to ‘wounding with intent’ or ‘causing grievous bodily harm with intent’. This offence is considered one of the most serious forms of assault, really only surpassed by murder and manslaughter in English law. To establish a Section 18 offence, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to cause serious harm, which sets it apart from lesser assault charges. This crime is only on indictment, i.e. only in the Crown Court, due to its severity.
For the prosecution, what are the Section 18 wounding with intent points to prove?
This final requirement – intention to harm – is a critical component in distinguishing Section 18 from other assault charges. The level of harm in question must be severe for the prosecution to succeed. In other words, it must be more than just minor injury and could include instances where life is endangered or permanent disability is caused.
If you are facing a Section 18 charge or trial, it can be helpful to consider some real-world examples to see how yours relates. Examples include where the defendant:
Do note that these are just examples, and the specifics of each case can vary widely, so getting advice from a solicitor is imperative whether your case was very much like these examples or entirely different. That said, the common thread in all these scenarios is the intention to cause grievous bodily harm so if the prosecution can prove that, it doesn’t really matter how the harm came about.
The sentence for a Section 18 offence is very serious, reflecting – of course – the seriousness of the crime. Those found guilty can face a custodial (prison) sentence of up to life imprisonment.
The actual length of the sentence will vary depending on a range of factors, including the severity of the harm caused, the intent of the defendant, and any previous criminal history. The starting point for sentences ranges from 3 years’ custody to 12 years’ custody, depending on the category of the offence. The final sentence can be anywhere within the category range, and can extend up to 16 years’ custody in the most serious of cases.
According to the Sentencing Council, factors that will increase the chances of a lengthy sentence include:
Note that this is not an exhaustive list, and the specific circumstances of the case will influence the outcome. For this reason, it is crucial to seek advice from a legal professional at the earliest opportunity.
For a solicitor, defending a Section 18 charge means thoroughly examining the prosecution’s case for any weaknesses. This might include questioning the proof of intent to cause serious harm, the reliability of the prosecution’s evidence, and the credibility of their witnesses. If no obvious holes can be poked in the prosecution’s case, the defence may rely on a more general defence to Section 18.
Some examples of general defences to Section 18 include:
Self-defence: The defendant can claim self-defence if they believed that the use of force was necessary to protect themselves or others from imminent harm. The force used must be reasonable and proportionate to the threat faced.
Necessity: The defence of necessity applies when the defendant commits an offence to prevent a greater harm or danger. It requires demonstrating that there was an immediate threat, no reasonable alternative, and the harm caused was proportionate to the harm avoided.
Duress: Duress is a defence where the defendant argues that they were forced to commit an offence due to a threat of serious harm or death. To succeed, the defence must demonstrate a reasonable belief that the threat was genuine, immediate, and that there was no reasonable opportunity to escape the situation.
Automatism: Automatism is a defence where the defendant claims that their actions were involuntary, often due to a temporary loss of control or consciousness, such as sleepwalking or an adverse reaction to medication.
Insanity: Insanity is a defence based on the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offence. It requires demonstrating that the defendant had a recognised mental disorder, which substantially impaired their ability to understand the nature of their actions or to form a rational judgement. Successful pleading of an insanity defence is likely to result in sectioning under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Due to the severity of a Section 18 offence and the potential for a lengthy prison sentence if convicted, obtaining legal representation is essential. An experienced solicitor can help navigate the complexities of the law, build a strong defence, and advocate on your behalf in court (or secure a barrister to do so).
Representation should be arranged as soon as you are made aware of a charge, or the intention to charge, to ensure the best possible outcome. Remember that legal advice is also incredibly valuable if you’re under investigation or have been arrested for a Section 18 offence, even before charges have been filed.
If you or someone you care about is facing prosecution for a Section 18 offence, time is of the essence. It is imperative that you get legal advice as quickly as possible so that your initial defence strategy can be set and a case can start to be built for you. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, our team of criminal law experts have decades of experience handling these claims, often getting cases dropped before the matter goes to court. Get in touch today for a free consultation about your options.
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