ABH (Actual Bodily Harm)

Under Section 47 of the Offences against the Persons Act 1861 the offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm can be found. ABH is a criminal offence which can be tried in either the Crown or Magistrates Courts.

The nature of ABH can vary in severity with the more serious offences relating to the use of a weapon, the use of a weapon which inflicts serious injury, injuries caused by kicking or head butting, serious violence, violence committed against a vulnerable person or when there was a motive behind the assault.

Although a less serious offence than Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), ABH is still a form of violent crime. Injuries caused by someone committing ABH can range from a black eye and bruising through to swelling and other minor injuries.


In legal terms, the only factors which differentiate Common Assault from Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm include the severity of injury and the sentence which is available in the Crown Court. Courts will believe that any act initiated by the defendant to intentionally or recklessly apply unlawful force is an assault. If ABH is committed in this instance it would be referred to as battery.

Common Assault

Common Assault is committed if a person assaults another person or commits battery.
Assault is when an individual recklessly or intentionally results in another person having to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force. Battery is when an individual intentionally or recklessly applies unlawful force on another individual

Assault is always a summary offence which has a maximum penalty of six months in prison and/or a fine which does not exceed the statutory maximum. If the requirements under Section 40 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 are met, Common Assault may be counted on an indictment and relate to inflicts serious injury

Police officers and prosecutors should understand the Definitive Guidelines when conducting reviews or reaching a decision on the charge for any case of ABH. This will ensure that the charge takes into consideration the seriousness of the incident and the circumstances in which the offence was committed, which will indicate how the offence should be sentenced. Sentencing an individual for an offence of ABH can be determined through the use of The Definitive Guideline by prosecutors or the authorities.

Definitive Guideline will apply to the following;

  • Offenders over the age of 18
  • Individuals sentenced after 13th June 2011
  • Irrespective of the offence date
  • Sentences issued by the Magistrates or Crown Courts

When the courts decide on a charge for the majority of assault cases, the prosecutors and the police will formulate their decision based on the injuries sustained and the court’s sentence in relation to the offence. In situations where an offence is committed that relates to wounding with intent, causing grievous bodily harm or attempted murder, intent will always be considered. For many cases injury to the victim and the sentence will prove crucial. Parliament have outlined that the offences of common assault, the more serious GBH and ABH are to be treated separately.

Where the victim has not sustained any injury or if the injury is not considered to be serious the defendant will be charged with common assault. If the victim sustains a severe injury and the sentence is in excess of six months in prison, the offence should be charged as ABH. If the injuries are significant, the offence should be charged as GBH.

Other Factors in ABH Offence

On rare occasions it is necessary to deviate from the usual approach where the injury sustained is not as serious as an ABH charge would warrant. In this instance, any injury that the victim has sustained will not be the only mitigating factor. The injury alone may not reflect the seriousness of the offence. The presence of other factors will be extremely pertinent to the sentence.

When reaching a decision as to the sentence, the Definitive Guideline will offer a useful framework to prosecutors and the authorities through an assessment of the offender. Detailed consideration should be given to the Definitive Guideline which forms a crucial part in the process of making decisions in any assault case.

The term assault is often used in cases of violent crime and the crime of ABH or GBH are more likely to be a result of battery rather than assault. However, there may be certain elements which may escalate an ABH offence to a more serious offence which will be reflected when the defendant is sentenced by the court. This would be applied in situations where the victim was attacked while conducting their public duties, the victim is a minor or vulnerable person, the defendant was in a position of care over the victim or where a weapon was used during the assault which resulted in significant harm to the victim.

If one or a combination of these situations apply to the incident then the case for the defence is somewhat harder.

ABH as Self Defence

Where there is no evidence of a ‘guilty mind’ the charge for ABH is either dropped all together or reduced. This will happen when there is a team of criminal defence solicitors who can provide sufficient proof to the court that the defendant acted in self defence. This is often the most effective way to defend an ABH or GBH case. Along with self defence, other cases can be put forward as a defence and what can be used for an ABH case.

Defences include diminished responsibility, misadventure, accidental jostling or mistaken identity. It is up to the defendant’s legal team as to which avenue they decide to follow and a defence should be built around a case which has been meticulously reviewed and put together.

The circumstances of each ABH case are different so there is no set way to approach putting a case together. There are multiple issues to consider in a violent crime case and it is crucial that anyone facing an allegation of a violent crime such as ABH seeks legal advice as soon as they can. It is always in your best interests to avoid implicating either yourself or others, or in some instances, make matters worse.

In the majority of cases, particularly if the client has a good defence like they were acting to defend themselves or the accused is genuinely innocent, they may be inclined to provide their version of events to the police without any legal representation. However this can have a detrimental impact on the case and it is always advised to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A legal representative can guide the accused through each stage in the process and outline the case, providing them with comprehensive advice along the way.

Other Offences

Where there is an offence of assault or ABH, there may also be other offences that the individual can be charged with such as;

  • Attempting to suffocate, strangle or choke an individual with the intention to commission an indictable offence
  • Taking or administering a drug with the intent to enable commission of an indictable offence
  • Administering poison or noxious substances which can endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm
  • Administering a noxious substance or poison with the intention of aggrieving, annoying or injuring an individual
  • Causing injury through the use of explosives
  • Using, sending or throwing an explosive or corrosive substance with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm
  • Threats to kill
  • Kidnapping either by taking or carrying away an individual, using force or by fraud, without consent of the person and without lawful excuse
  • False Imprisonment
  • Neglect or ill treatment contrary to section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005


ABH is often considered to be a less serious offence than GBH but it can still result in a prison term if the accused is found guilty. The maximum sentence for a charge of ABH is five years in prison. Where the accused does not dispute the charge, the case can be tried in a Magistrates Court. ABH charges can also be heard in a Crown Court. If the defendant receives a summary conviction this is considerably less than an indictment. Sentencing for an actual bodily harm offence on summary will not exceed a prison term of six months. Fines may also be imposed on the defendant as well as the prison sentence.

ABH is a serious offence and it is important if you have been a victim of the crime or you are the alleged offender to seek legal advice as soon as possible so you can be guided through the process and advised accordingly.