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OUR GUIDE TO COMMON ASSAULT, ABH AND GBH

November 12, 2020

Our criminal law experts have experience with defending those who are facing criminal charges for assault, ABH or GBH and we can help you if you are facing these charges.

Are you facing common assault charges and need legal advice or a defence solicitor? Get in touch with us today.  

If you are pressed for time, use our content guide below to skip to specific questions.

What is common assault?

Common assault is when a victim is made to feel that force will be used against them. No actual force needs to be applied, just the threat or fear that this may happen. This can also include threatening gestures such as fist shaking. This becomes battery when the actual application of force is involved.

What are the differences between common assault, assault by beating & domestic violence?

As mentioned above, the difference between common assault and assault by beating (which is the official charge for battery), is that assault can be verbal or a gesture whereas battery/assault by beating is actually physical – occurrences such as pushing and spitting can be classed as battery

Can I be charged with common assault if no injury was caused?

Yes, you can – common assault can be verbal. As we have discussed, simple gestures or threats can be considered common assault, although charges for this will be less severe than if an actual physical assault took place.

Will I go to prison for common assault?

Yes, in some instances you can go to prison for common assault. Common assault has a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and / or a fine. 

However, if you are being charged for the first time, a custodial sentence is unlikely, and a fine is the usual punishment. On the other hand, if you have a previous conviction, or are shown to have had a particular motivation for the attack (for example a racially motivated attack), this could result in a prison sentence of up to two years.

Can common assault charges be dropped?

Yes, but only by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service and not by the victim themselves. This is usually for one of three reasons:

  1. There is not enough evidence
  2. A witness statement has been withdrawn
  3. Charges are not in the victim’s best interest

Common assault of an emergency worker / police officer 

If you assault an emergency worker or police officer on duty, you can face a prison sentence of up to six months. If the attack was more serious, the charge could be pushed to GBH or even ABH which come with more serious punishments.

Section 38 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 also has a separate offence for ‘assault with intent to resist arrest’. This happens when someone assaults a police officer attempting to arrest them, or a citizen who is assisting the police with the arrest. The maximum sentence for this is two years and can be taken to Crown Court.

Is common assault serious?

Yes, common assault is a serious offence and you can go to custody on a first conviction if the circumstances of the assault are serious as referred to in the sentencing guidelines for common assault. It is not, however, as serious as other forms of assault (GBH and ABH), explained in more detail further below. 

Is common assault a major or minor criminal offence?

Common assault is considered a minor criminal offence. ABH, however, is a major offence.

Can common assault go to Crown Court?

No, common assault cases will only be dealt with in a Magistrates court.

Is common assault more serious if a knife was involved?

Yes, once a knife is involved this is no longer considered common assault and can be classed as more serious offences such as actual bodily harm if damage was caused with the knife.

Will common assault show on an enhanced DBS?

Common assault charges can be filtered and therefore they are unlikely to show on an enhanced DBS, although this is not the case 100% of the time.

Filtering is the process where previous convictions and cautions can be removed from disclosure certificate convictions which should no longer be disclosed due to legislation changes.

What is actual bodily harm (ABH)?

Actual bodily harm occurs when harm is caused to a victim’s body. The harm doesn’t have to be serious, but it does need to be more significant than a slap or shove. Bruises or scratches as evidence would qualify as ABH.

ABH contains more intention to use unlawful force. The offender only needs to use unlawful force, even if they do not intend to do harm, for the offence to be classed as ABH. For example, if someone is pushed and they fall and bruise their arm, this is ABH as the offender’s intent was to use unlawful force rather than cause injury.

Will I go to prison for ABH?

Just as with common assault, if you are being charged for the first time it is unlikely you will receive a prison sentence – usually you will be fined. However, ABH does carry a maximum sentence of five years and previous convictions or attacks with particular motivations (race attacks) could lead to a custodial sentence.

Can ABH be filtered?

No, ABH cannot be filtered from your DBS.

Where are ABH cases heard?

ABH cases are ‘either way’ offences, meaning they can be heard in either Magistrates or Crown Court.

Is ABH a serious offence?

ABH is classed as a medium-level offence, with other such offences including theft and burglary.

ABH with previous convictions

If you have previous convictions and are charged with ABH, your sentence will be higher than another offender with no previous convictions. A lengthier prison sentence is more likely in this case.

What is grievous bodily harm (GBH)?

GBH is when serious harm is caused to a victim, for example breaking bones, disfiguring them permanently and even stabbing. 

As with ABH, intent is important to consider here. If the intent was to cause pain, but not serious harm, this would be considered ‘wounding without intent’, however if the offender did intend to cause serious harm then this would result in a GBH charge.

Can I go to prison for grievous bodily harm?

Yes, you will. Grievous bodily harm sentencing does not offer the option of just a fine, even for first time offences. Due to the violent nature of the crime, it is unlikely that bail will be offered for GBH offences.

Wounding without intent carries a maximum five year sentence whilst GBH could result in a life sentence – though sentences of more than 10 years for GBH are extremely rare.

Are broken bones GBH?

Yes, broken bones are a clear indication that GBH has been committed. This is because it is more than just a wound in the skin and causes long-lasting damage.

How serious is GBH?

GBH is the most serious assault conviction as the injuries caused have severely affected the victim, such as broken bones or disfigurement. As mentioned above, GBH can even result in a life sentence so it is not a charge to be taken lightly.

Which court hears GBH cases?

As with ABH, GBH cases are either way, therefore they can be heard in either Magistrates or Crown Court.

Can GBH be aggravated?

Yes, GBH can be aggravated, which means that other factors involved in the case means that the case is more on the severe end of the charge. For example, a racially motivated attack classed under GBH could result in the highest sentence possible.

GBH charge for a minor

It is extremely rare that we see children under 12 committing GBH, but in the rare case that this happens the court may intervene by assigning an individual to monitor the family as children under 12 cannot be prosecuted.

Where to get help for an assault charge

AFG LAW has a team of experienced criminal law experts who can help you if you have been accused of committing assault. We can help you make sense of the complex charges against you, evaluate the evidence and give advice.Our criminal law solicitors can help you with your case and provide expert legal advice and representation throughout. If you’d like more information on common assault, either read our service page about our common assault services or contact us today – we’ll explain how AFG LAW’s criminal law specialists can help.