• Top 1% of Defence Law Firms

  • Defended over 50,000 Cases

  • 5 star google reviews

  • 40 Years of Criminal Law Expertise

Criminal Defence Articles

What happens for a first offence of Assault?

Assault by beating | Assault Lawyers

Assault is a serious criminal offence in the UK, carrying significant legal consequences. This charge can lead to a distressing experience, with the potential for penalties including imprisonment. If you or someone you care about is facing charges of assault, it is vital to seek legal advice immediately. This article offers an overview of the offence, illustrates examples of assault, delves into the specifics of sentencing, and explores the likelihood of imprisonment for first-time offenders. We’ll also guide you on how to get more help.

What is the offence of assault in the UK?

The offence of assault in the UK is primarily governed under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Assault is broadly defined as any act by which a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to fear immediate unlawful violence. In English law, this can range from acts causing minimal fear of harm to actual physical contact.

Key components of assault include:

  • the accused performing an act that causes the victim to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.
  • the perpetrator must have intended or been reckless as to causing the victim to fear immediate harm.

Assaults can be categorised into common assault and aggravated assault. Common assault doesn’t involve physical contact; it is enough if the victim fears they might be hurt. Aggravated assault, on the other hand, involves serious harm or is committed with a deadly weapon.

What are some examples of assault offences in the UK?

Assault is a very wide ranging offence and numerous different actions could constitute the offence. Examples of assault offences include:

  • Threatening someone with physical harm in a verbal altercation.
  • Raising a fist towards someone in a threatening manner.
  • Spitting at someone.
  • Pushing or shoving a person without their consent.
  • Throwing an object close to someone to intimidate them.
  • Making a sudden move that causes someone to fear they will be struck.
  • Waving a weapon, like a knife or a bat, in a threatening way, even if the weapon is not used.
  • Kicking at someone, even if you don’t make contact.
  • Deliberately obstructing someone’s path aggressively, forcing them to move to avoid harm.
  • Grabbing someone’s clothing or possessions in a threatening manner.
  • Making physical contact, however slight, in an aggressive or unwanted manner.
  • Intentionally standing too close to someone in a menacing way, invading their personal space to intimidate.

What happens if you are suspected of committing assault in the UK?

If you are suspected of committing assault in the UK, the legal process that unfolds is comprehensive and rigorous, reflecting the seriousness of the offence. Here’s an outline of the typical steps involved:

  • Investigation: Initially, the police will conduct an investigation into the alleged assault. This involves gathering evidence, which may include taking statements from the victim and any witnesses, collecting medical reports if there are injuries, and reviewing any available CCTV footage that might have captured the incident.
  • Arrest: If there’s sufficient evidence to suggest involvement in the assault, the police can arrest the suspect. The arrest allows the police to take the individual into custody for questioning and further investigation.
  • Detention and Questioning: After arrest, the suspect can be detained at a police station for a certain period. During this time, they will be questioned about the incident. It’s crucial for the suspect to have legal representation during this stage, as what is said or not said here can significantly impact the case.
  • Charging: Based on the findings from the investigation and questioning, if the police believe there is enough evidence, they will charge the suspect with assault. The specific charge (e.g., common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm) depends on the nature and severity of the alleged offence.
  • Bail or Release Under Investigation: After being charged, the suspect may either be released on bail or under investigation while awaiting trial. Bail conditions may be imposed, which could include restrictions like not contacting the victim or witnesses.
  • Court Proceedings: The case will then proceed to court. Most assault cases are heard in the Magistrates’ Court, but more serious cases (such as those involving significant injury) may be sent to the Crown Court.
  • Trial: During the trial, the prosecution must prove the suspect’s guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ The defence will have an opportunity to present their case, challenging the prosecution’s evidence and providing their version of events.
  • Verdict: After hearing all the evidence, the judge (in a bench trial) or jury (in a jury trial) will deliver a verdict. If the suspect is found guilty, they will be convicted of assault.
  • Sentencing: If convicted, the court will impose a sentence based on the severity of the assault and any mitigating or aggravating factors. Sentences can range from fines and community orders to imprisonment, depending on the nature of the assault.
  • Appeals: The convicted individual has the right to appeal against their conviction or the severity of their sentence if they believe there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Remember that every case is unique, and the legal process can vary based on the specifics of each case. Legal guidance is essential to navigate these complex proceedings.

What is the sentence for assault?

The sentencing for assault in the UK varies widely depending on the nature of the offence and several key factors. Assault can range from common assault, which involves causing someone to apprehend immediate unlawful personal violence, to more serious forms such as actual bodily harm (ABH) or grievous bodily harm (GBH), which involve causing physical injury.

  • For common assault, the maximum sentence is up to 6 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.
  • ABH can lead to a maximum sentence of up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
  • GBH sentences can be more severe, with maximum sentences ranging up to life imprisonment, especially in cases where the assault is committed with intent.

Aggravating factors can lead to harsher sentences. These include:

  • Severity of injury: Greater harm to the victim often results in a more severe sentence.
  • Use of a weapon: Using a weapon during the assault increases the seriousness of the offence.
  • Pre-meditation: If the assault was planned, it is viewed more seriously.
  • Vulnerable victim: Assaulting a child, elderly person, or someone with a disability can lead to a harsher sentence.
  • Repeated assaults or sustained attack: A prolonged or repeated assault is treated more severely.
  • Hate crimes: Assaults motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability are viewed as particularly serious.

Mitigating factors, on the other hand, can lead to more lenient sentences. These include:

  • Lack of previous convictions: A clean criminal record can significantly mitigate the sentence.
  • Remorse: Demonstrating genuine remorse can influence the court towards leniency.
  • Provocation: If the assault was committed in response to provocation, it might lead to a lighter sentence.
  • Self-defence: Acting in self-defence, within reasonable bounds, can be a mitigating factor.
  • Mental health issues: If the offender has relevant mental health problems, this may be taken into consideration.
  • Age and maturity: Especially for younger offenders, their age and maturity level can influence sentencing.

The final sentence is at the discretion of the judge, who will consider the individual circumstances of each case.

Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing assault?

When judges in the UK consider sentencing for a first-time offender of assault, they evaluate several key factors. The severity of the assault is paramount; more serious assaults, particularly those involving significant harm or the use of a weapon, are more likely to result in imprisonment. The circumstances of the offence, such as whether it was premeditated or occurred spontaneously, are also crucial.

The background of the defendant is important. A lack of previous criminal history can act as a mitigating factor. Judges also take into account personal factors like age, mental health, and general character. The impact of the assault on the victim, both physically and emotionally, is another significant consideration, often assessed through victim impact statements.

Judges follow the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, balancing aggravating factors, like the nature of the assault or any premeditation, against mitigating factors such as self-defence or provocation. The principle of proportionality is key — the punishment should fit the crime, and for lesser assaults, non-custodial sentences may be considered.

Public interest and deterrence, especially in cases involving public disorder or domestic violence, can influence the decision, sometimes leading to stricter sentences even for first-time offenders. Ultimately, while being a first-time offender can be mitigating, the decision hinges on a complex blend of the offence’s specifics, the offender’s background, and the impact on the victim, making legal guidance essential for navigating this process.

Where to get further help

Assault charges may be common, but that does not mean that they are any easier to handle if you or someone you care about is facing one. This article has outlined the offence, legal process, sentencing guidelines, and considerations for first-time offenders. If you need more information or would benefit from a free consultation, contact the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. We provide unparalleled guidance and support throughout the entirety of the criminal process, making it easier for you to focus on your defence from day one.


  • Responsive

    A legal expert will consult you within 24 hours of making an enquiry.

  • Empathetic

    We will always treat you with trust, understanding and respect.

  • Specialised

    Your case will be handled by an expert who specialises in your type of offence.

  • Proactive

    We will take early action to end proceedings as soon as it is practically and legally possible to do so.

  • Engaged

    You will be kept updated on your case at all times. We will provide a named contact available to answer your questions.

  • Caring

    We understand this is a difficult and stressful time for you and your family. Our team will support you every step of the way.

  • Tenacious

    We will never give up on your case. We fight tirelessly to get you the best possible outcome.

Google Rating
Based on 348 reviews

Further Reading


Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.