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Being charged or arrested for Actual Bodily Harm can be very stressful. It’s understandable that you’ll be feeling anxious and stressed out about what may happen next, what you need to do and what the implications may be.

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.

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More about actual bodily harm or ABH

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.

ABH is created by Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which states: ‘Whosoever shall be convicted upon an indictment of any assault occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude.’

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.

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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.

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What should I do if I am charged with ABH?

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.

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Will I go to prison if convicted of ABH?

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:

  • Repeat offending
  • 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)
  • Being provoked or antagonised

Read more about sentencing for Actual Bodily Harm offences.

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.


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