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  • Rai Gill

What is an assault occasioning actual bodily harm?


An assault occasioning actual bodily harm is an offence contrary to section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The key words are “actual bodily harm” (“ABH”). This element places an ABH assault between the more serious grievous bodily harm offences and the less physically consequential assaults (e.g. common assault or assault by beating).


What, then, are the key elements of an assault occasioning actual bodily harm? In short, the Prosecution must prove that:

  1. The defendant committed an assault;

  2. The assault directly caused (occasioned) the complainant (victim) actual bodily harm; or

  3. The assault indirectly caused the complainant actual bodily harm; and

  4. The defendant intended, or was reckless as to, the assault.


There is substantial case law that helps to clarify, qualify, and define each of these elements. However, in brief, the following can be useful summaries of terms:

  • Assault: either a common assault or an assault by beating (see relevant article)

  • Directly caused: that the assault, committed by the defendant, was the action which caused the harm

  • Indirectly caused: that the harm was caused by an action of the complainant which he made as a direct and natural (i.e. objectively foreseeable) consequence of the assault of the defendant, OR

  • Indirectly caused: that the act or word or the defendant recklessly created and thereby exposed the victim to the injury

  • Actual bodily harm: what it says on the tin – an injury that is more than trifling; this can include psychiatric or psychological injury. But not so serious as to amount to grievous bodily harm


Assault occasioning actual bodily harm is an ether-way offence, meaning that it can be tried in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. Where it will be heard will usually depend on factors such as the circumstances of the case, the likely sentence, and whether the defendant wishes to be tried by a jury.


On conviction in the Crown Court, the offence carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. However, the Sentencing Council provides a sentence range (i.e. a spectrum which a Judge must use to determine an appropriate sentence depending on the severity of the circumstances of each case) of a fine to four years’ imprisonment.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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