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Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH, s18) explained

2 January 2022

GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) S18 and alternative of S20 Wounding

GBH Is the most serious level of assault and is a serious offence. People accused of GBH will often be refused bail and can have their lives and those of their families turned upside down by the threat of a trial and the possibility of a long prison sentence.

To be convicted of this offence, the prosecution must prove that the defendant caused really serious harm/injury such as hitting someone with a baseball bat.

Really serious harm means injuries such as broken bones or lacerations where the skin has been broken. Small cuts or bruises will not usually be classed as GBH, but serious fractures and deep cuts will.

The prosecution must also prove that the defendant intended to cause serious harm/injury to the alleged victim. It is up to the prosecution to persuade a jury that the defendant had the required intention. Usually, if a weapon is brought to the scene such as a knife, it is more difficult to defend such an allegation.

No Intent to Cause Harm, but Harm Caused

If the intention of the defendant was to only cause some pain or harm, but not "really serious harm", then the offence committed is Section 20 Wounding- a less serious version of GBH. This is known as "wounding without intent". So a defendant who has punched someone and fractured their eye socket could be guilty of Section 20 Assault if their intention was just to cause discomfort to that person such as a black eye.

As the defendant did not intend to cause the injury, their actions in punching may be deemed as reckless (meaning they did not think about the possible consequences of punching someone) and therefore their GBH solicitors will advance this as a defence with a view to the prosecution agreeing to a lesser charge such as s20 if originally a s18 offence or even s47, actual bodily harm. The difference in sentencing is huge.

Whether an offence is Section 18 or Section 20 is important when it comes to sentence. Section 20 Assault has a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. Section 18 Assault, on the other hand, can only ever be dealt with in the Crown Court and can result in a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although sentences of more than 10 years for Section 18 are rare.

Defences to Offences of Violence and Strategy

Quite often these cases occur during a night out during arguments or even in domestic settings. Defendants often advance that they were acting in self-defence, and it is important to get free legal advice from GBH Solicitors who can determine whether this defence can be used. The law in relation to self-defence is quite complicated and will only succeed where a defendant has used 'reasonable force'.

As mentioned above, it is very easy for a defendant to punch someone and cause a much more serious injury that intended, which ultimately can cause problems with advancing a defence of self-defence.

It is important in GBH cases to seek free legal advice from a GBH solicitor from the outset. Any comments made in a police interview can impact not only the charging decision but also the defence case as a whole. 

Challenging the medical evidence is important as the police will often charge a defendant with a higher level of assault before full medical evidence has been obtained.  Often there are disputes about how injuries have occurred, and it is imperative that GBH solicitors obtain independent medical opinions.

Forensic evidence is often produced by the prosecution, particular where the defendant may deny being present at the scene and/or involved in the offence. Instructing a GBH solicitor will enable them to challenge this evidence as there could be reasonable explanations as to why forensic evidence is present.

In a so-called ‘big brother’ society, CCTV is almost everywhere. The quality of that CCTV varies and in assault cases, there is normally some form of CCTV evidence.  The police will form their own view of what is shown on the CCTV, but that is their opinion and a defendant needs to be able to consider this evidence in detail with their GBH solicitor and experts used where required.

The police and prosecution are under a duty to disclose all evidence they obtain in a case, whether it assists the prosecution or not. A GBH solicitor will review what is called unused evidence and identify anything that may assist the defence case, such as eyewitnesses who do not support the account given by the witnesses used by the prosecution. Quite often in these cases, there is alcohol involved and the GBH solicitor will need to examine what was said by those making the allegation including eyewitnesses at the time and whether this differs from the statement they subsequently provide to the police.

Each case is different, but anyone arrested for an offence of GBH should immediately request free legal advice from a specialist GBH solicitor.

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