What do I need to know about grievous bodily harm (GBH) and the law?

What do I need to know about grievous bodily harm (GBH) and the law?

Grievous bodily harm, more commonly known simply as GBH, refers to any “really serious harm” which is inflicted on an individual.

GBH is often associated with ABH (actual bodily harm) which, as its name suggests, is harm to an individual which is not as great as that caused by GBH in that it is not deemed “really serious” harm.

A solicitor should be able to give advice as to which category any harm falls into, although in most cases it will be apparent.

Offences Against the Person Act

GBH falls within Section 20 and Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act. Section 20 is grouped together with unlawful and malicious wounding of a person.

In short, anybody deemed to “unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict GBH on another person, shall be guilty”. The offence of Section 20 GBH carries a sentence of not more than five years.

Proving GBH

As with nearly all criminal offences, in order to prove GBH the defendant must be found to have the requisite actus reus and the requisite mens rea.

Essentially the actus reus (coming from the Latin “guilty act”) means that the defendant must have actually committed the act in question; whilst the mens rea (“guilty mind”) means that the individual must have meant to commit the act.

In a murder case, for example, an individual must have physically killed the victim (actus reus) and intended to kill the victim (mens rea).

The actus reus of GBH is causing really serious harm to another person. As to what constitutes really serious harm, this will be a matter for the jury to decide on fact. It is important to note that psychiatric injury can be deemed really serious and can lead to a GBH conviction.

The mens rea of Section 20 GBH is that the harm must have been caused maliciously, which in this context means intentionally or recklessly. To be convicted under Section 20, a defendant must have intended to cause some harm to the individual or acted recklessly in the sense that he reasonably foresaw that his actions could result in harm.

Section 18 and Section 20

A big distinction lies between the Section 20 offence and Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act. The distinction between the two being that the defendant intended to cause GBH. Therefore a defendant could be convicted under Section 20 (the lesser offence) for inflicting GBH whilst meaning to cause some damage, or acting recklessly which resulted in the damage.

For example, if you were to push somebody hoping to cause some harm and they subsequently fell back and down a hill causing GBH, you could be tried under the Section 20 offence. However, in order to be tried under the Section 18 offence you would have to intend to cause really serious harm.

It is as a result of the difference in the mens rea, or more particularly the intention of the defendant, that the Section 20 offence carries a punishment of no more than five years in jail, whilst the Section 18 offence carries a sentence of up to 25 years.

There are defences to both offences, all of which a solicitor will be able to advise. Most commonly used is acting in self defence; however, this will have to be proven and therefore getting legal advice at an early stage is a prudent move.

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