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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: ABH Liability

Model Answer | A Level

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Discuss liability for assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH)

Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) is the least serious offence in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA 1861) under Section 47, it gives rise to the most convictions, is an either way offence and carries a maximum 5 year prison sentence.

Actus reus

Actus reus has three elements: assault, occasioning and actual bodily harm.


Initial stage is to prove either assault or battery. Assault occurs when the defendant causes the victim to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence. Battery consists of an act where unlawful physical force is applied to another person.


Occasioning is the causation element, looking at the consequences. If no harm occurs a charge cannot be brought under S47.

Actual bodily harm

Actual bodily harm is the key element. The distinction between a S47 offence and others under OAPA 1861 is the degree of harm.

What constitutes actual bodily harm has been developed through case law. It was found to .. include any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim.. [providing it is more than] transient and trifiling... (Miller (1954)).

Guidelines were set out in Chan-Fook (1994). The court said harm means injury and actual means the injury should not be so trivial as to be wholly insignificant. It also stated bodily is not limited to harm to the skin, flesh and bones but also includes organs, brain and nervous system. Psychiatric injury does not include emotions or states of mind that are not an identifiable medical condition.

Bodily can include hair (Smith (2006)).

ABH can include a brief loss of consciousness (T v DPP (2003)).

Injury may be caused indirectly (DPP v K (1990)).

Mens rea

Mens rea is intention or recklessness as to assault or battery. There is no need for a separate mens rea for the ABH (Roberts (1971)).

In Savage (1991) the defendant intentionally threw beer at the victim but the glass left her hand and cut the victim. The intentional throwing of the glass of beer was sufficient mens rea for the offence of battery. As a result of the act something more serious, both factually and legally, occurred and there was sufficient mens rea for the more serious offence.

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