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  • Rai Gill

Wounding and Grievous Bodily Harm

Introduction

In Criminal Law, wounding or causing grievous bodily harm (“GBH”) to another person is one of the most serious offences a person can commit. Specifically, there are in fact two offences relating to wounding and GBH, distinguished by intent.


Wounding with Intent to do Grievous Bodily Harm

This is the more serious of the two offences. It is governed by section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, as is therefore sometimes known as a “section 18 wounding” or simply “section 18”.

The critical element of this offence is that the defendant intended by his actions to cause GBH to another.


Elements

Therefore, at trial, the Prosecution would have to prove:


  1. That the defendant caused injury to another person;

  2. This injury amounted to a wound; or

  3. This injury amounted to grievous bodily harm; and

  4. The defendant intended by his actions to cause grievous bodily harm to another.


Terminology

But what do these terms actually mean?


  • Wounding: Any action which causes a break in the skin deep enough that the skin is no longer continuous, i.e. that the skin has been punctured or cut all the way through*

  • Grievous Bodily Harm: essentially, exactly what it says on the tin – really serious bodily harm. This can include psychiatric, though not psychological, harm.


Magistrates’ or Crown Court?

Wounding with intent is an “indictable only” offence, meaning that it can only be heard in the Crown Court, with a verdict delivered by a jury at trial.


Sentence

As to sentence, a section 18 offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. However, the guidelines of the Sentencing Council provide a range of two to sixteen years. In practice, a judge will take into account all factors in a case before deciding on an appropriate sentence.


Alternative Convictions

It is also worth noting that a person charged on indictment with a section 18 offence can be found guilty of alternative offences. Where the elements of the wounding with intent offence are not met, but the facts give rise to the elements of another offence, the jury can, as an alternative, convict a defendant of this “lesser” offence. The alternatives to a section 18 offence are: section 20 wounding; assault occasioning actual bodily harm; assault by beating; and common assault.

*Although this definition can encompass many minor injuries (e.g. a small cut) which would strictly be “wounds”, a section 18 charge is usually only reserved for serious wounds or wounds inflicted by a weapon (i.e. when the matter is serious enough to warrant a charge).


Wounding or Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm (Without Specific Intent)

This is the lesser of the two wounding offences, contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The key difference is the absence of an intent to cause another GBH, though GBH or wounding was nevertheless caused.


Elements

Therefore, the elements which the Prosecution need to prove are:


  1. That the defendant caused injury to another person;

  2. This injury amounted to a wound; or

  3. This injury amounted to grievous bodily harm; and

  4. The defendant intended or was reckless that his actions would cause some (i.e. any) harm.


Terminology

In this context, to be “reckless” means that the defendant knew, or ought to have known, that there was a risk that his actions would cause harm, but that he decided to undertake those actions nonetheless.


Magistrates’ or Crown Court?

Unlike wounding with intent, a section 20 offence is triable either way (see our website for an article explaining types of offences in more detail). This means that a section 20 offence can be tried in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.


Sentence

The maximum sentence for a section 20 offence (when sentenced in the Crown Court) is five years’ imprisonment. As with any offence, the actual penalty will depend, amongst other factors, on the facts of each case.


Alternative Convictions

As with a section 18 offence, a defendant may be convicted of alternative, “lesser” offences when charged with a section 20 wounding. These alternatives are: assault occasioning actual bodily harm; assault by beating; and common assault.


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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