If you have been charged with grievous bodily harm with intent, take time to seek advice and consider your options. Depending on the circumstances, there might be a defence that you can rely upon to get a lesser sentence or avoid prison altogether.

This article begins by explaining the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent and how this differs from grievous bodily harm.

After examining the types of evidence that the prosecution might rely upon in your case, the article considers the maximum sentence you could face and possible defences that might be available to you.


Section 18 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 sets out the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent. This is a different, more serious offence than grievous bodily harm. The court will consider two questions.

  1. Was grievous bodily harm caused to the victim?

Grievous bodily harm (GBH) can be defined as really serious bodily harm. This could include punching, kicking, or wounding such as by stabbing. Grievous bodily harm can be committed with or without a weapon. It is the most severe assault charge that can be laid against a person in relation to physical harm. The key consideration when deciding whether to charge for GBH or a lesser offence, is the level of harm done to the victim. If the victim needs significant or sustained medical treatment, this is likely to lead to a charge of GBH.

The level of harm will be assessed by looking at the injuries caused to that particular victim, not how much your actions would harm an average person. For example, if the victim suffered from an unseen disability that meant that the assault led to internal injuries, whereas a healthy person would not have been harmed so seriously, the court will judge your actions by the harm caused by the disabled victim in question.

  1. Did you intend to cause grievous bodily harm to the victim?

This is where the offences of GBH and GBH with intent differ. For GBH, you only need to intend to cause some harm to the victim. To be convicted of GBH with intent, the jury must believe that at the time of committing the offence, you intended to wound the victim or otherwise inflict the serious level of harm that was caused.

For example, did you plan the attack? Did you select or make a weapon ahead of time? Using an offensive weapon upon or kicking a person’s head is also taken as a sign that you intended serious harm.


The prosecution will need to prove that it was you who caused the victim harm. In order to establish this, the police may seek to use your biometric information to link you to the victim, weapon, or scene of the crime. In addition, CCTV evidence and witness testimonies of anyone who was present may be used to prove your involvement in events.

To show the seriousness of the harm, the prosecution may rely upon medical records of the victim. They may also show photographs of the injuries. In some cases, medico-legal expects will be used to testify to the likely prognosis of the victim. For example, how debilitating are their injuries and will they make a full recovery?

The prosecution will also need to show that you intended to cause serious harm. Your testimony in respect of what happened will probably form an important part of your defence.

For example, what was going through your mind at the time of events? Was the attack premeditated or did it occur in the spur of the moment? Seek specialist advice  on your options in respect of giving evidence or exercising your right to remain silent.


The maximum sentence for GBH with intent under Section 18 is life imprisonment, which in reality means a custodial sentence of 16 years. However, it could be much less.

The shortest sentence that you could face is three years’ imprisonment. When deciding upon your sentence, the court will consider your culpability (blameworthiness) and the harm caused to the victim. Examples of high culpability include significant planning, gang activity, the intention to cause more harm than was caused, and the use of a weapon. Harm is interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the word.

For instance, say you, operating as part of a gang, purchased a gun and shot the victim in the leg causing them severe blood loss – this would receive a high sentence, towards the top end of the sentence range. The court would find you more culpable because of the pre-meditated nature of procuring a gun in order to commit the offence and because you were involved in gang activity.

By contrast, if you became involved in a fight, during which you kicked the victim once in the head, you would probably face a shorter sentence because the incident did not involve significant planning, or a weapon, or the intention to cause more harm than was caused.


  • Accident: If you have been charged with GBH with intent, you may be able to rely on the defence of accident. This could apply where you did intend to cause some harm, but the harm became more serious as a result of an accident. This could lead to you being convicted of a less serious offence.
  • Consent: There is a legal debate around whether you can defend a charge of GBH with intent on the grounds that the victim consented to the activity. This has been used by defendants charged in relation to harm caused by sadomasochistic sexual activities. However, courts have suggested that consent is not a justification for intending to cause someone really serious harm.


There are a number of other defences that might apply to your case. These are called ‘general defences’, and they are called such because they apply generally to many different types of criminals (not the crimes they commit).

Self-defence: If someone is violent towards you or you believe that they are about to be, the law says that you can use the force that is reasonably necessary to defend yourself. Self-defence will only be a valid defence if the harm that you caused was proportionate to the threat that you faced (i.e. you cannot shoot someone who threatened to punch you).

Duress: Were you were forced or pressurised by someone to commit the offence? If so, this defence could apply. The court will consider whether you reasonably feared death or serious injury if you did not commit the act, and whether a reasonable person in your situation would have shared those fears and responded in the same way.

Automatism: If you were not aware of your actions when committing the offence, in some rare circumstances, you may be able to rely upon the defence of automatism. For example, this has been used for offences committed whilst sleepwalking. Generally, if you were under the voluntary influence of alcohol or illicit drugs you will not be able to rely on this defence.

Insanity: If the court finds that due mental illness, you lacked the ability to reason such that you did not know that the act that you were doing was against the law, you may be acquitted on the grounds of insanity. If you succeed in this defence, you could be detained under the Mental Health Act of 1983 on the basis that your mental condition poses a risk to others in society.

Intoxication: The courts are reluctant to accept voluntary intoxication (i.e. choosing to consume drugs and alcohol) as an excuse for criminal behaviour. However, if you were intoxicated when the incident happened, you may be able to rely upon this to show that you did not have the necessary mental intention to commit the offence. This could lead to you being convicted of a lesser offence.

Mistake: This defence could apply if you were mistaken as to certain factual circumstances and would not have committed the offence if you had known otherwise. The court will consider whether your belief was honest but mistaken, and if it was reasonable in the circumstances (again, taking into account what is reasonable for the ordinary person, not reasonable to you).


A successful defence may lead to you being acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge. Providing intent to cause grievous bodily harm is a high threshold for the prosecution to meet. If the jury finds that you intended some harm, but not serious harm, then you could be convicted of grievous bodily harm instead.



Being under investigation for, charged with or arrested for grievous bodily harm can be very stressful. It’s understandable that you’ll be feeling anxious and stressed out about what may happen next if you or a loved one is charged with this crime.


In the following information you will see mention of section 18 and section 20. These are sections taken from the Offences Against Persons Act 1861 which is the law referred to when it comes to grievous bodily harm offences.

The crime of grievous bodily harm (GBH) or wounding (Section 18) is the most severe form of assault short of attempted murder.  This is particularly true if you’re convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent.

There could be a long prison sentence involved and anybody who involved in a grievous bodily harm case is understandably concerned about what the outcome might be.

The typical sentence for the grievous bodily harm offence can be anywhere between 3 years and 16 years, depending on how serious the offence is. The decision will come from the court and will be based on how serious the harm was and other factors such as whether the defendant has a previous criminal record involving other violence.


Here are some examples of grievous bodily harm that may have led to the situation at hand.

Visible disfigurement – examples maybe a broken cheekbone, fractured skull, loss of sensory function or any other permanent disability including psychiatric injury.

Stabbing somebody – for instance, if the accused left home with a sharp knife and located and stabbed somebody, this would be categorised as GBH with intent.  It may involve broken ribs, substantial loss of blood requiring a transfusion or other lengthy treatment.

Hitting somebody with a baseball bat – to illustrate this, if an arm or rib is fractured or there is a wound.

Knocking down a police officer and driving over them – without a doubt, this is a serious offence and could result in a heavy sentence of around nine years.

Using a broken bottle to hit somebody in the face – undoubtedly, this is a serious offence and would result in imprisonment for around nine years.

Kicking the head of another person – obviously, a lot of physical and mental damage could be caused by this act. A prison sentence in accordance with the severity of the outcome would be issued.

In some cases, people are accused of something that they haven’t done. If you are charged in error, or correctly being accused, it’s critical that you get in contact with a legal professional. The legal professional will work with you on either finding a way for the case to be dismissed or to craft a strong defence.


The different classifications and terms of grievous bodily harm offences are detailed below.

The seriousness of any grievous bodily harm offence is classified by the level of harm caused.

When classified as being committed with intent, the crime can even carry as much as 16 years imprisonment. The same crime, when classified as committed without intent, comes with a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Grievous bodily harm or GBH is severe physical harm which may result in broken limbs or even psychiatric injury. GBH can be committed by wounding with or without intent to cause GBH.

What’s more, when an offence falls under the ‘committed unlawfully and maliciously’ category, it means that there is no defence such as force used for preventing, crime, self-defence, defence of another or property.

Moreover, when the term wounding is applied, it means that the skin has been broken either externally or internally.

Section 18 is applied when grievous bodily harm has been done with the intent to cause severe injury, or wounding is used. If a weapon was involved this makes the offence graver.

Section 20 is when it’s grievous bodily harm without intent. For example, a person punched somebody, and they fell and caused a wound or severe injury.

Whatever the circumstances, this is a very uncomfortable and concerning situation to be in. You and your role in the offence will be investigated, and this is likely to lead to you being required to attend court.

Most importantly, it’s recommended that you engage a skilled criminal solicitor who can begin to prepare a strong defence to give you the best possible outcome.

The following is extracted from the Sentencing Council’s guidelines on culpability factors when deciding on sentencing for grievous bodily harm offences.



  • Offence racially or religiously aggravated
  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility to the victim based on his or her sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation)
  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility to the victim based on the victim’s disability (or presumed disability)


  • A significant degree of premeditation
  • Use of weapon or weapon equivalent (for example, shod foot, headbutting, use of acid, use of animal)
  • Intention to commit more serious harm than actually resulted from the offence
  • Deliberately causes more harm than is necessary for commission of offence
  • Deliberate targeting of vulnerable victim
  • Leading role in group or gang
  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility based on the victim’s age, sex, gender identity (or presumed gender identity)


  • Subordinate role in group or gang
  • A greater degree of provocation than normally expected
  • Lack of premeditation
  • Mental disorder or learning disability, where linked to commission of the offence
  • Excessive self defence


The following weapons are typically used in Grievous Bodily Harm offences:

  • Bottles
  • Knuckle Duster
  • Bat
  • Golf Club
  • Knives
  • Throwing acid
  • Feet used to kick
  • Teeth for biting


When the sentence for a GBH conviction is decided, several elements are considered in each case. In brief, there will be consideration of the injury, the intent to harm behind the injury, the level of violence and what the previous offending history is of the accused.

Certain aspects of a case are known as the mitigating aspects which can influence the sentence that a judge gives. One of the factors judges consider in every case of this nature is the defendant’s level of genuine remorse.

The following are some of the other factors considered when the court decides which sentence to give. They will look at:

  • Your previous conviction
  • Your level of remorse
  • Your level of cooperation with the investigation
  • Whether the activity you took part in was originally legitimate
  • Your reputation / good character
  • Whether you have any serious medical conditions that require long term, urgent or intensive treatment
  • Whether you have a learning disability or a mental disorder
  • Whether you are the sole or primary carer for related dependents
  • There may also be an opportunity to be handed a reduced sentence with a guilty plea


In recent years, a number of changes have been made to the sentencing system in the UK to save the court time and cost and to protect witnesses from the stress of needlessly going through a trial. For offenders aged 18 and over, pleading guilty early on in a case can reduce a sentence by as much as one third (maximum). The later the plea is entered, the smaller the % reduction.

  • ‘Early on’ refers to ‘the first stage of the proceedings’ and means anytime up to and including the first hearing at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court for indictable offences.
  • If a plea is entered 14 days after the first hearing, for example, the maximum level of reduction is just 20% or one fifth of the sentence. For indictable offences, the limit for a guilty plea to be made is within 28 days after the prosecutor has stated compliance with section 3 of CPIA 1996 and serving disclosure; although the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Judge who has discretion to apply whatever credit is deemed appropriate.
  • After these times there is a sliding scale of credit applied. This goes down to one tenth on the first day of the trial and to zero if entered during the course of the trial. In theory, the ten percent could be given if the plea is issued after the opening speeches on the first day, but prior to any witness evidence being heard.
  • If the accused does not want to plead guilty, then it’s important for the solicitor to regularly inform the court throughout the trial of the reasons why the client’s plea is not guilty.


Ancillary Orders

A court can also make ancillary orders on a defendant if they are found guilty and convicted of an offence. These are extra elements that can be added to a sentence and include additional restrictions or requirements that affect a dependent’s finances, property or activity.

Ancillary orders that are typically added to the penalty for those who are found to be guilty of grievous bodily harm include:

  • Compensation for victim
  • Restraint orders
  • Confiscation orders

As part of your investigation, you may have weapons seized, or your communication devices if they can provide the prosecutors with evidence that they can use against you.

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