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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: GBH Liability

Model Answer | A Level

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Discuss liability for grievous bodily harm and wounding (GBH)

Offences of inflicting grievous bodily harm or malicious wounding are commonly referred to as GBH.

GBH is an offence under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861(OAPA 1861) and is an either way offence with a maximum 5 year prison sentence.

GBH is also an offence under S18 of OAPA 1861. S18 offences are triable only on indictment and carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Actus reus

Actus reus has two elements: unlawful and grievous bodily harm or wounding. Same actus reus is required for both S20 and S18 offences.


Unlawful usually means there is no consent to the act. Issues often arise around whether the consent is genuine.

Wounding or Grievous Bodily Harm

Wounding requires break in the surface of the skin. In JCC v Eisenhower (1984) the victim was hit by an airgun pellet in the eye and suffered internal bleeding but it found there was no wounding as there was no breaking of the skin.

Grievous bodily harm should be given its ordinary and natural meaning really serious harm (Smith (1961)).

The combined injuries of a broken nose, three lost teeth and concussion, were considered to be GBH (Brown & Stratton (1998)).

Victim’s age may be relevant in deciding whether injury amounts to GBH. In Bollom (2003) the defendant caused several bruises to a 17 month old baby.

Knowingly transmitting a serious disease may be GBH (Dica (2004)).

Mens rea

The mens rea required is the distinction between a S20 and S18 offence.


Mens rea of a S20 offence is maliciously. In Savage (1991) it was confirmed maliciously meant intentionally or recklessly.

It is sufficient to prove the defendant intended his act to result in some unlawful bodily harm, even minor or was subjectively reckless as to the risk.

As Lord Diplock commented is enough that he should have foreseen that some physical harm to some person, albeit of a minor character, might result... (Mowatt (1976)).

Foreseeing harm might occur is sufficient (DPP v A [2000]).


Mens rea of a S18 offence is maliciously as under S20. Also there must be further specific intent.

Recklessness is sufficient under S20 but for a S18 offence there must be intention.

It must be proved defendant intended to either do some grievous bodily harm to the victim or to resist or prevent a lawful arrest or detention. Intention to cause some harm is not sufficient under S18.

In Belfon (1976) the defendant had slashed the victim with a razor and the victim sustained severe wounds to his face and chest. It was held it was essential to prove specific intent, foreseeing that such harm was likely to result or being reckless would be insufficient.

Oblique intention can also apply to S18 offences. So it is sufficient if defendant foresaw that grievous bodily harm or wounding was a virtual certainty as a result of his conduct (Nedrick (1986)).

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