GBH: Grievous Bodily Harm/Wounding, with or without intent
In legal shorthand, we often refer to section 18 or 20 GBH offences. These refer to specific offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
What is the difference between section 18 and section 20?
Grievous bodily harm (GBH) or wounding is the second most serious form of assault, below attempted murder.
When the offence is committed with the intention to cause GBH, it is an offence under section 18. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment. The same offence committed without intent to cause GBH is an offence under section 20. It has a maximum sentence of 5 years.
For an offence to be committed unlawfully and maliciously, it means that there is no defence such as self-defence, force used for preventing crime, defence of property or another.
There are also some other technical differences between the two offences.
What is GBH?
GBH or grievous bodily harm is really serious bodily harm, so would include broken limbs for example. It can also include psychiatric injury.
What is wounding?
Wounding is where the skin is broken (either internally or externally).
Section 18, the intent offence
For the more serious offence, an intention to cause serious injury or wounding is required.
A jury needs to be satisfied that the offender intended to cause the harm, by considering all of the relevant circumstances. This will include what the offender did and what he said about it.
What about weapons?
The use of a weapon will make any offence more serious, and will often be evidence of an intent to cause GBH. Weapons include knives, bottles, throwing acid etc. Feet used to kick are also considered to be a weapon, and biting is also an aggravating feature.
Section 20, without intent
The difference between a Section 18 and a Section 20 offence is that for a Section 20 offence you did not intend to cause the injury. An example would be if you punched someone once and they fall causing a serious injury or wound.
Your lack of intent may be taken from the way in which the assault was committed or your behaviour at the time and immediately afterwards.
What sentence will I get?
For an offence with intent it is almost inevitable that a term of imprisonment will be imposed. The guidelines range from 3 years for a less serious offence through to 16 years for the more serious offences.
Examples of sentences imposed are nine years when a bottle was used to strike the face requiring thirty stitches; nine years also imposed for causing a fractured arm with a baseball bat, knocking down and driving over a police officer, kicks to the head on the floor causing extensive facial fractures.
For offences under section 20 the maximum sentence is 5 years, so a non-custodial sentence is more likely. The guidelines range from a community order to 4 years imprisonment.
How can we help?
The difference in sentencing for an offence without intent means that this issue has to be considered carefully in the context of all of the evidence.
We can advise you whether intent and other offence elements can be proven, and the prospects, if appropriate, of a plea to the lesser offence being acceptable to the prosecution and the court.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.