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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: GBH Liability

Revision Note | A Level

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  • offences of inflicting grievous bodily harm or malicious wounding commonly referred to as GBH
  • one offence of GBH is under S20 of Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA 1861)

    Offences Against the Person Act 1861

    • S20: .. Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any person, either with or without any weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of an offence...
  • S20 offences are triable either way
  • other offence of GBH is under S18 of Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA 1861)

    Offences Against the Person Act 1861

    • S18: ..Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person, with intent to do some grievous bodily harm to any person, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person...
  • S18 offences are triable only on indictment, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment

Actus reus

  • actus reus has two elements: unlawful, grievous bodily harm or wounding
  • same actus reus is required for both S20 and S18 offences


  • usually means there is no consent to the act
  • issue often centres around whether the consent is genuine

Wounding or Grievous Bodily Harm

  • wounding requires a break in surface of the skin, both layers, so a visible open wound, usually with blood loss

    JCC v Eisenhower (1984)

    • D shot V with an airgun, V got pellet in the eye and suffered internal bleeding
    • court decided there was no wounding as no breaking of the skin
  • phrase grievous bodily harm should be given its ordinary and natural meaning
  • essentially really serious harm (Smith (1961))
  • combined injuries may amount to GBH

    Brown and Stratton (1998)

    • Ds attacked V with a chair, causing a broken nose, three lost teeth and concussion
    • Ds guilty of GBH
  • V’s age may be relevant

    Bollom (2003)

    • D caused several bruises to a 17 month old baby
    • Court of Appeal held the V’s age was relevant in deciding whether an injury amounted to GBH
  • knowingly transmitting a serious disease may be GBH

    Dica (2004)

    • D had sexual intercourse with Vs, knowing he was HIV positive, Vs contracted HIV
    • D convicted of GBH

Mens rea

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


  • mens rea required is maliciously

    Savage (1991)

    • D intentionally threw beer at V, ex girlfriend of her husband, the glass left D's hand and cut V
    • D did not intend to cause serious injury but was reckless
    • intentional throwing of the glass of beer was sufficient mens rea for battery
    • D did not intend to cause serious injury but was reckless, court confirmed maliciously meant intentionally or recklessly
  • to prove D acted maliciously it is sufficient to prove D intended his act to result in some unlawful bodily harm, even minor
  • or to prove D was subjectively reckless as to the risk that his act may result in unlawful bodily harm
  • not necessary to prove D intended or foresaw the wound or grievous bodily harm
  • sufficient to prove D realised that some harm might occur

    Mowatt (1976)

    • D hit V several times and knocked him unconscious
    • Lord Diplock: ..It is enough that he should have foreseen that some physical harm to some person, albeit of a minor character, might result...
  • foreseeing harm might occur is sufficient

    DPP v A [2000]

    • D mistakenly shot V in the eye with an air pistol, D and V were playing a game where they agreed to shot each other below the knees
    • S20 charge dismissed on the basis D had not foreseen his action would cause harm, so not acted maliciously
    • on appeal, confirmed foreseeing harm might occur is sufficient for mens rea of maliciously


  • mens rea required is maliciously , as under S20 and there must be further specific intent
  • recklessness is sufficient under S20 but for a S18 offence there must be intention
  • must be proved D 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

    Belfon (1976)

    • D slashed V with a razor, V sustained severe wounds to his face and chest
    • court held it was essential to prove specific intent
    • D foreseeing that such harm was likely to result or D being reckless as to whether such harm would result is insufficient
  • oblique intention can also apply to S18 offences
  • sufficient if D foresaw that grievous bodily harm or wounding was a virtual certainty as a result of his conduct (Nedrick (1986))
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