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Actual Bodily Harm
Charges of actual bodily harm (ABH) are common, but nonetheless are very serious. If you face such a charge, understandably, you are worried about what might happen next and anxious to start building your defence.
In this article, we outline everything you need to know about ABH and tell you how to get expert representation for what comes next.
Actual bodily harm (ABH) is a serious offence and if you have been charged with it, you are probably extremely stressed and worried about what the consequences might be for your personal and professional lives.
One of the most frustrating things about many ABH charges is that they arise from silly or regrettable situations. Maybe you had one too many at the bar, got in a pointless fight with someone else, and now you’re stuck with this legal charge hanging over your head? Or maybe you and a few mates were just messing around play fighting, and someone got the wrong end of the stick, reporting you for assault and leaving you with a headache in more ways than one?
These situations are very common, and solicitors deal with them day in and day out. That said, the fact that they happen a lot does not make them any less serious.
ABH is a serious offence and if convicted, you could spend time in prison. Not only will this affect your personal relationships, but it will negatively impact your professional life, too. As a result, it is critical you get expert advice at the earliest opportunity.
ABH is a statutory offence, which means it was created by Parliament. Interestingly, the offence dates all the way back to 1861, but remarkably is just as relevant today as it was back then. Because of its age, you might find that some of the language relating to ABH is written in an archaic or old way, and that can be confusing. Do not be discouraged by this, however. While the language may be old, the actions that language describes are actually very familiar to most people. Let’s take a look at the offence in more detail.
All this sentence really means is that if somebody is convicted of ABH, they may go to prison. As for what ABH actually is, we need to look at the way that the courts have interpreted the language over the years. Unfortunately, we do not have clear criteria for this, but we do have some guidelines.
The courts have determined that for the purposes of ABH, an ‘assault’ is an act that causes a person to suffer unlawful violence. The term ‘bodily harm’ has its ordinary meaning; in other words, bodily harm relates to harm done to a person’s body, or that causes discomfort or harm to a person’s health, even if it is not serious or long term.
This is a very broad definition, and it is no surprise that so many different types of events, such as fights, accidents, or deliberate assaults, fall under this charge.
On your charge sheet, ABH may also be referred to as ‘battery’. In cases where there is much more serious intent and damage done to the alleged victim, the assault is more likely to be prosecuted as grievous bodily harm, or GBH.
Whatever the events that led to your charge, make sure to obtain the services of a qualified criminal defence solicitor who specialises in actual bodily harm cases.
Have you been falsely accused of actual bodily harm?
It is unfortunate, but there are many instances every year where people are prosecuted, and some even found guilty, based on lies. If you have been falsely accused of actual bodily harm, whether in the context of a close personal relationship or by a stranger, make sure to get in touch with a legal professional immediately.
Time is of the essence in criminal cases, and if we were able to act quickly, we may be able to get your case dropped before it even goes to court.
What type of actions are considered actual bodily harm?
As mentioned, the definition of actual bodily harm is very broad, and this means that there are numerous circumstances and actions that may fall under the definition of this crime. Here are just a few examples:
Punching someone on the leg in jest, resulting in a small bruise
Scratching someone during a fight, resulting in shallow lacerations to their skin
Roughly pushing somebody out of the way in the build up to a fight, causing them to fall and twist their knee
Performing illegal tackles or other contacts in sports, even if only intended to advance the game and not actually to hurt the person
Recklessly barging into someone in the street while rushing to get somewhere, making them graze their arm on a nearby wall
Struggling to avoid arrest, resulting in the police officer tripping on a curb and bumping their head
ABH may also be conducted in the context of professional activity. For example, if a nightclub owner is particularly annoyed with an inebriated patron and grabs them and throws them out the door, causing them to fall and hurt themselves, this could be prosecuted as ABH.
What happens in an actual bodily harm investigation?
During an ABH investigation, police officers will be trying to determine exactly what happened at the time of the alleged offence and will be gathering evidence that might support a prosecution of ABH. For you as the alleged offender, this may feel like a very intrusive and stressful process.
The evidence that they collect must prove the elements described in the legal definition of ABH. In other words, the police must collect evidence that proves that an assault caused another person to suffer unlawful violence, and that bodily harm to that person occurred. The police will also be trying to understand the mental intention of the alleged perpetrator at the time, which may later be relevant to sentencing (someone acting recklessly will not be punished as harshly as somebody that acted deliberately, for instance).
Throughout the investigation, the police may:
Request that you attend a voluntary interview to explain what happened
Demand that you attend a non-voluntary interview to explain what happened
Speak to your friends, neighbours, colleagues, or others who may have witnessed the events
Take your side of the story, as well as that of the alleged victim, in formal statements
Check CCTV footage from nearby buildings that may show what happened, or the lead up or aftermath thereof
Require you to give samples of DNA via bodily fluids (e.g. saliva or urine)
Search your home, business, car, or other relevant locations
Note that while police procedural rules are usually followed, there are times when officers bend the rules to move investigations on more quickly or to get answers out of people improperly. The police are required to follow the rules under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (known as PACE). These extensive codes of practice set out a number of rules and processes that must be followed during investigations and other police procedural matters.
If you suspect officers might be breaching these rules, or you need additional help in understanding exactly what should happen, contact a qualified criminal defence solicitor without delay.
It may sound like a cliché, but the first thing to do if you are charged with ABH is to remember to stay calm. Staying calm not only helps ensure that you do not do anything to worsen any charges against you (by attacking a police officer, for example), but it also makes navigating the complexities of a criminal case much easier to deal with.
When you receive your charge sheet, either at the station or through the post after an investigation, make sure to arrange a consultation with a criminal law specialist as soon as possible. At this stage, don’t worry about costs or fees or anything else; just get in touch with a reputable law firm and request a free consultation with their team. Any good firm offers a no pressure initial consultation completely free of charge so you can work out what to do next.
Thereafter, try to write down as much as you can remember from the events. Recalling an event vocally may not trigger all the memories and connections between them that you will later rely on in your defence. Write as much down as you can without worrying about spelling, grammar, formatting, or anything else – just get it out on paper! Your solicitor will value the fullest picture you can give them.
While you are awaiting the next steps at any stage of the process, you must not approach the alleged victim(s) or any witnesses. Doing so could constitute an offence of intimidation or harassment, which will land you in more hot water.
During a criminal process, it is likely you will have countless questions. Having a reliable and experienced solicitor by your side during the process will help immensely, so make sure to get in touch with a criminal defence solicitor as soon as possible to set your mind at ease.
How long does an ABH investigation take?
Unfortunately there is no way of knowing how long any police investigation will actually take, even one as common as ABH. Sometimes, investigations are wrapped up pretty quickly where there is strong evidence against you, and other times it may take several weeks or months to hear anything back.
The police are not obliged to tell you what stage their investigation is at, nor what evidence they have against you prior to your trial. That said, having a good solicitor by your side can help in moving things along and getting as much information as possible out of investigating officers.
Will the police search my home in an ABH case?
If a police officer deems it necessary for their investigation, they may be able to obtain a warrant to search your home, work place, or other relevant location. Not all cases require home searches, but if the police believe there may be incriminating evidence there, they are within their power to search it (assuming the Magistrate grants their warrant request).
The goal of a police search is solely to collect evidence. They are not there to intimidate or question you in detail. Types of evidence they may collect include:
Electronic devices like mobile phones, tablets, or laptops to search your files and obtain copies of calls, text messages, emails, and social media accounts
Clothing, which may be damaged or stained from the events surrounding the alleged assault
Evidence of related crimes, such as stolen goods, if the ABH were alleged to have happened during commission of another criminal activity like theft
Weapons, whether legal or illegal
If you feel like a search of your home was not conducted appropriately (such as if the police damaged items unnecessarily, used excessive force to enter, threatened or intimidated you, or hurt you, your family members, or your pets) get in touch with a solicitor immediately for advice.
There is a chance you will serve a prison term for ABH, yes. This depends entirely on the case against you and the severity of any harm you caused, but if found guilty, you could face a maximum of 5 years in custody. In less serious cases, you could receive a high level community order.
In deciding what sentence to give you, the court will look at the level of harm caused to the victim as well as the culpability, or blameworthiness, of the defendant.
Factors that could lead to a harsher sentence include:
Premeditated (planned) assaults
Targeting for racial, ethnic, religious, or other reasons
Vulnerability of the victim (for example, through age, disability, or illness)
Acts committed as part of gang activities
More serious harm being suffered by the victim
Long-lasting mental and emotional scarring of the victim
Conversely, factors that might indicate a more lenient punishment include:
First time offending
Intoxication of the defendant (usually, getting drunk is not an excuse, but if someone spiked your drink and you lashed out because of that, you may get a lesser sentence or be discharged entirely)
Spur-of-the-moment and unplanned actions
Showing remorse and regret during any trial or court appearances
Having issued a public or private apology for the actions, or having tried to make amends for related damages (e.g. if you smashed someone’s car window during the fight and you later paid for it to be repaired, you might receive a lesser sentence)
For more information on the complex sentencing guidelines for assault and ABH, visit the Sentencing Council guidance here.
Are there any defences to ABH?
ABH assault charges, like the vast majority of other crimes, do have defences applicable to them in certain circumstances. It is very important that you discuss these with your solicitor prior to trying to mount a defence, because if you get something wrong, it could have the effect of negating and ‘excuse’ altogether.
As well as the general defences that apply to ABH (such as mistake, duress, and intoxication), you may also be able to draw on two special defences, which will have the effect of negating your culpability for the offence:
Consent: Oddly enough, you can consent to being the recipient of some level of violence in English law. The legal precedent on this topic arose in relation to sadomasochistic sexual activities, but it has been applied in broader situations, too. Courts are more willing to recognise otherwise ‘innocent’ activities, like general play fighting and horse play, over those that have more sinister implications (such as routine slapping or poking in the context of long-term ‘banter’ with colleagues that could be interpreted as bullying). Where the victim consented to the harm happening, or the mere risk of such harm happening, you have a defence.
Lawful sport: If you injured someone during the normal course of a sporting activity, where no illegal moves or actions were made in that sport, you may have a defence against an assault charge. This is especially relevant in physical sports, like boxing or rugby, but would not be in more hands-off sports, like running or javelin. If, however, you used an illegal move or otherwise went beyond the force or technical requirements of the sport and someone was injured as a result (such as if you kicked a player in football or punched an unaware fighter in boxing), you may still be charged with ABH even though players consent to some level of danger in sports generally.
Does a conviction for ABH go on your record?
Yes, any conviction, including one for something as common as ABH, goes on your criminal record. The police will be able to see details of this offence if they ever have reason to look at your file again (such as in a subsequent arrest), and employers will be able to see this in certain disclosure reports as well. The most common type of job-related criminal history disclosure is the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, which may show basic or enhanced details of your criminal past, depending on the nature of the employment you are seeking. Some educational institutions or volunteer coordinators may also request this information.
What happens when I instruct a solicitor in an ABH case?
Any good solicitor will offer you a free consultation at the outset to understand fully whether they can help in your case. Assuming they can, here’s what typically happens next:
Once you have agreed to work with a particular solicitor, or group of solicitors, they will send out what is called a ‘client care’ letter, commonly known as a ‘retainer’ agreement. This states all the agreed terms between the client and the solicitor.
When you have signed the letter, relevant payment terms are enacted (such as the taking of a deposit) and the solicitor begins their full representation
Solicitors will ask you detailed questions, which sometimes are personal. This is solely to get all information needed to defend you properly.
Your solicitor will keep you posted on all relevant dates for court appearances or hearings. They will meet you beforehand and give you advice on exactly what will happen.
You have access to your solicitor by phone appointment during work hours or email any time.
Why contact Stuart Miller Solicitors for help in ABH cases?
In addition to being an award-winning internationally-recognised law firm, assault is one of our specialist areas of criminal defence and we have experience helping individuals with this charge all over London and surrounding areas. Still need convincing? Here are some more reasons to choose us:
Over three decades’ of experience handling and defending ABH cases
Experienced and expert lawyers who proactively seek out ways to advance your defence, or even get your case dropped before trial
A friendly and non-judgemental team who will help you through each stressful and emotional stage of the case
Over 10,545 cases won to date
Winners of the prestigious Modern Law Awards
Where to get more help?
If you need more help in responding to an ABH charge, look no further than the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors. We have decades worth of experience with these common crimes and can often help you get your case dismissed before it even goes to trial. Contact us today to arrange a free, non-judgemental, and no pressure consultation with a member of our team.
Kiran was 100% helpful with my case and listened to me and advice me accordingly.I’m really happy with the outcome and I recommend their services to any one who’s looking for a good service and someone that can listen to you and help you with your case. Thank you so much Kiran and the whole team. Excellent job!
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I would highly recommend this firm of solicitors who went over and above with the care and dedication you would not generally expect from a corporate firm. Kibla, Anna and Jilal were a huge support and very efficient in securing the best outcome in the cases they were dealing with. If you want a firm of solicitors that really does have the personal touch and understands their clients then please use the above at Stuart Miller. The Barrister used by Stuart Miller , Lucy , was also excellent and helped us through a stressful time. Thank you all.
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I HAD TO SPLIT THE REVIEW IN 2 PARTS BECAUSE IT WAS SO LONGPART 1I will be honest; I never heard of Stuart Miller Solicitors, but when my father needed legal assistance, that very name popped up, and all I heard was good reviews. I have never been in a situation where I have needed to seek legal advice and representation and very quick too, but I can say it was a decision I did not regret at all, asking Stuart Miller Solicitors to help my father. We are based in Birmingham and Stuart Miller Solicitors being based in London, and in times of Covid, I cannot credit the effort from the Director Mohammed Zeb and Anna Sidgwick to ensure it felt like they were not so far away from us, but local to us in our city. My father was not in the bests of himself to seek information on who to represent him, so I did this for him as his next of kin, and for his bests interest. Mohammed Zeb was referred to me through family, friends and professionals. Surprisingly as a Director, which I know how busy they can be, I was able to speak to him at first hand and it was the re-assurance and professionalism I received, that I knew I was in great hands. M Zeb informed me of the legal procedures and advised me accordingly to my father’s situation every step of the way from arrest through to sentencing. My father gave permission for me to act as his representative to liaise with his Legal Team – M Zeb and Anna Sidgwick, and both of them and their professionalism was outstanding.When my father was in custody, M Zeb ensured my father’s health and well-being was taken care of. M Zeb liaised with me after he saw my father and informed of the steps they would be taking from there onwards. Considering the event was around New Years, M Zeb made sure my father was able to attend the Magistrates Court on New Years Day so my father could settle in on remand instead of being unstable in custody. Any time or day, I picked up my phone to call M Zeb, he answered and was re-assuring in the circumstances, I cannot credit this man enough. Due to how busy M Zeb was, Anna S took over from the case, but M Zeb ensured he was overlooking on the case every step of the way and I can assure you; he did that exactly. Anna S was amazing in her help and support too. I could contact her whenever and she was always there to help. Any questions I had, whether they seemed silly to me, I still asked and both, M Zeb and Anna S made sure I got the right information to understand what my question was. Any information or update either of us knew of, we all informed each straight away, the communication between us was brilliant. I admire how they made my case such a priority, like it was the only one they were dealing but in reality, they were dealing with many more, the ability to ensure your clients’ needs are met at all times, is a skill in itself and I credit both M Zeb and Anna S for this because they went above and beyond, which I appreciated now and still do! Both M Zeb and Anna S tried so much, in terms of communicating with the prison, to see my father while on remand and in times of Covid, through video links and on numerous occasions in person. This suited my father best, for his comfort and ease, seeing and dealing with people face to face, and where they M. Zeb and Anna S could, they managed to do just that.
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