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ABH vs GBH: What’s the difference?

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) and Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) are terms used in English criminal law to describe the severest forms of violence.

It refers to two offences of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 –  section 18 intentional (the most serious) and 20 reckless. Sections 18 and 20 carry different maximum sentences section 18 being the heaviest.

Both GBH or ABH can be committed either intentionally or recklessly. Each offence has different possible consequences and punishments for the offender depend on the level of seriousness and injuries sustained.

What is Actual Bodily Harm?

Whether intentional or unintentional, the harm does not need to be serious to be classed as ABH, however, it does need to be more significant than a push or shove. Harm that consists of bruises, scratches or bite marks would be sufficient enough to be classed under this umbrella. For example, if a push results in someone hitting their head against a wall, it is more likely to be ABH than GBH  because the intention was to use unlawful force, rather than causing a head injury.

The severity of the sentence will depend on a number of factors including the seriousness of the injury, whether a weapon was used, whether the assault was sustained and whether the offender has any history for violent offending.

What is Grievous Bodily Harm?

Again, whether intentional or unintentional, GBH is the most serious level of assault as the injuries are deemed to cause major detriment to the victim’s health. If injury resulted in, for example, broken bones,  permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement or substantial loss of blood  requiring a transfusion then it would usually amount to really serious harm. 

Cases of grievous bodily harm are always tried by the Crown Court and carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Is there a defence to ABH and GBH?

It is possible, however, it’s difficult to generalise because the facts of an individual case are paramount to a reduction in a sentence. 

Self-defence is the most common defence used in assault cases. The offender can state that they were defending themselves, another person or property. The use of force must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances and a Court will be looking closely at the level of force used. Someone slapping you is unlikely to justify causing GBH. 

What is the Offences against the Person Act 1861

The Offences against the Person Act 1861 is an Act of Parliament that consolidates sections relating to offences against a person (which, in particular, includes offences of violence) into a single Act replacing the previous one in 1828. Although it has been substantially amended, it continues to be the foundation for prosecuting personal injury, short of murder, in the courts of England and Wales.

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