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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Non-Fatal Offences: GBH Liability

Study Note | A Level

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


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. S20 offences carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.


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. S18 offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Actus reus

The actus reus has two elements. The same actus reus is required for both S20 and S18 offences.

  • Unlawful

    This usually means there must have been no consent to the act. The issue often centres around whether the consent is genuine.

  • There must be either unlawful wounding or grievous bodily harm.


    Wounding requires there to have been a break in the surface of the skin, both layers and is therefore seen to be an open wound usually with blood loss.

    JCC v Eisenhower (1984)

    Victim hit by an airgun pellet in the eye and suffered internal bleeding. The court decided there was no wounding there was no breaking of the skin.

  • Grievous bodily harm

    The phrase grievous bodily harm should be given its ordinary and natural meaning, essentially really serious harm. (Smith (1961)).

    Brown and Stratton (1998)

    Victim was a transsexual and the son and cousin of the defendants. Victim went to the defendant’s market stall dressed as a woman. Defendants attacked the victim with a chair, causing a broken nose, three lost teeth and concussion. The combined injuries were considered to be sufficient for GBH.

    Bollom (2003)

    Defendant caused several bruises to a 17 month old baby. The Court of Appeal held the victim’s age was relevant in deciding whether an injury amounted to GBH.

    Dica (2004)

    Defendant had sexual intercourse with two victims, knowing he was HIV positive. Victims contracted HIV as a result. Defendant was convicted of GBH.

Mens rea

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

  • GBH S20

    The mens rea required is maliciously .

    Savage (1991)

    Defendant intentionally threw beer at victim, ex girlfriend of her husband. The glass left her hand and cut the victim. Defendant did not intend to cause serious injury but was reckless. The court confirmed maliciously meant intentionally or recklessly.

    In order to prove a defendant acted maliciously it is sufficient to prove he intended his act to result in some unlawful bodily harm, even minor, to some other person or was subjectively reckless as to the risk that his act may result in such harm. There is no requirement that the intent or recklessness must be as to anything more than that some harm might occur.

    Mowatt (1976)

    Defendant hit the victim several times and knocked him unconscious.

    Lord Diplock: .. In the offence under section 20 … the word maliciously does import upon the part of the person who unlawfully inflicts the wound or other grievous bodily harm an awareness that his act may have the consequence of causing some physical harm to some other person … It is quite unnecessary that the accused should have foreseen that his unlawful act might cause physical harm of the gravity described in the section, i.e. a wound or serious physical injury. It is enough that he should have foreseen that some physical harm to some person, albeit of a minor character, might result....

    Therefore, it is not necessary to prove the defendant intended or foresaw the wound or grievous bodily harm. It is sufficient to prove that the defendant realised that some harm might occur.

    DPP v A [2000]

    Defendant mistakenly shot the victim in the eye with an air pistol. Defendant and victim were playing a game where they agreed to shot each other below the knees.

    Magistrates dismissed the S20 charge on the basis that the defendant had not foreseen his action would cause harm and so had not acted maliciously. Prosecutors appealed on the grounds that maliciously had been wrongly applied and that the defendant’s act was malicious if he foresaw harm might occur. Divisional Court allowed the appeal and confirmed foreseeing harm might occur is sufficient for mens rea of maliciously.

  • GBH S18

    The mens rea required is maliciously, as under S20 and there must be further specific intent. . Essentially, reckless is sufficient under S20 but for a S18 offence there must be intention.

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

    Belfon (1976)

    Defendant had slashed the victim with a razor. Victim sustained severe wounds to his face and chest. The court held it was essential to prove specific intent. References to the defendant foreseeing that such harm was likely to result or that he had been reckless as to whether such harm would result, would be insufficient.

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

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