What constitutes GBH with intent: Section 18 or Section 20?

The Offences cover GBH Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) 1861. There are two classifications of GBH; Section 18 which is to intentionally cause grievous bodily harm and Section 20, which is to cause GBH level injuries without the intention to cause such severe harm. 

What constitutes GBH with intent: Section 18 or 20?

What is Section 18?

Section 18 of the OAPA states:

“Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person with the 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, shall be guilty of felony…”

Section 18 is considered a more severe offence than Section 20 due to the intentional infliction of serious injury, but it can be a more challenging offence to prove. It is sometimes known as wounding with intent, and that is the keyword in proving an offence under Section 18. It is for the prosecution to prove that the offender intended to cause GBH level injuries so, for example, punching a man who falls and damages his skull would most likely be recorded as an offence under Section 20 as it would be difficult to prove that the injury sustained was the expected outcome of the action. 

If, however, the offender was using a knuckle duster or similar implement to increase the force of their punch and broke the victims’ jaw then it is likely that the offence would be Section 18 as it can likely be proven that the offender intended to inflict that level of injury. In the case of knife crime, it can be sufficient to prove that the offender deliberately left home with a knife, even if he argues that it was for his protection and not with the intent of causing harm to another.

What is Section 20?

Offences under Section 20 can be committed wilfully or recklessly. An offender who strikes a victim in such a way that GBH level injuries are sustained but were not the intended outcome will most likely be charged with Section 20 GBH as would somebody acting recklessly by, for example throwing a glass in anger which hits somebody causing bleeding.

Because of the distinction between the two sections and the need to prove intent to secure a conviction in the more severe cases under Section 18, there can sometimes be a fine line between which GBH offence the CPS chooses to charge an offender with. On some occasions, the prosecution may assert that the offender had intended to cause GBH injuries if they are severe or life-threatening even if the defendant states that the injuries were far more severe than he had intended or anticipated.

In these cases, the defence may use what is called a rebuttable presumption which argues that the offender did not intend the seriousness of the injuries. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove that intent. Often, if it is clear that GBH with intent will be difficult to prove, the offender will be charged with Section 20 GBH as the chances of a conviction are greater.

How can intent be proven for Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)?

Proving a Section 18 GBH charge involves demonstrating that the offender physically caused severe injury and that, at the time of the assault, this is their intended outcome. For a successful conviction under Section 18, proving reckless behaviour by the offender is insufficient for a guilty verdict. The offenders’ actions must be proven to be malicious, deliberate and committed with a degree of premeditation. These factors can include, but are not limited to; a sustained attack, evidence that the attack was planned, deliberately choosing to use a weapon, striking vulnerable areas of the victim’s body such as stamping on their head when they are on the floor. 

Some of these are easier to prove than others as proving intent can be tricky, given that the prosecution needs to prove what was going on in the mind of the offender before and during the incident. The added element of intent adds a layer of complexity to Section 18 charges, beyond that associated with any other assault charge. If you are arrested for a Section 18 offence, then you should seek expert legal advice at your earliest possible opportunity and before you engage in any conversations or interviews with police officers.

What should I do if I am arrested for a Section 18 offence?

When and where you are arrested will differ depending on how soon an offence is reported and how quickly the police respond. If you are arrested at the scene of the alleged offence, you will most likely be taken to custody at the same time that police officers begin their investigation. They will need to take statements from the victim and any known witnesses and may carry out other tasks such as seizing CCTV or instructing a SOCO to look for forensic evidence. 

In some cases, the victim makes a report to the police after the event. In these instances, officers will most likely collate all of their initial evidence before making the arrest. In either case, as the accused, you have certain rights in law about how you are treated and how you are given your chance to provide your side of the story. For advice and the best possible outcome, you should choose a solicitor with expertise in cases of violence and serious assault.

Will I have to attend court if I am arrested for GBH?

The OAPA 1861 stated that ‘wounding’ meant breaking the skin so under National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS) any form of scratch or cut caused by an assault will be classified as GBH. In the years since 1861, GBH has been amended to include other serious injuries such as broken bones or even psychological damage which is directly linked to the offence. The Home Office is stringent in police forces recording offences correctly so there are occasions where an offence under Section 20 would be recorded because of a bloody nose or a skin abrasion even though in reality it is a minor offence. 

In these circumstances, and if all parties agree to it, the police may use a Community Resolution to deal with the offence. This is the lowest level of disposal available to the police and can only be used for minor offences. Most GBH offences, though, will include significant injury and the final charging decision will sit with the CPS who will take into account all of the evidence provided to establish whether the offence falls under Section 18 or Section 20. 

In some instances, they will decide that the evidence does not warrant a charge with any offence due to insufficient evidence, and that will be the end of the matter. If you are charged, your first court appearance will be at Magistrates’ Court where the charges will be read out. If the magistrates decide that they have sufficient powers to deal with the offence, you will be offered the chance to have your case heard in that court at a later date or to take it to Crown Court where a jury will try you. 

Your solicitor should guide you in this, and you will probably have already discussed the possibility before your appearance in court. The magistrates may elect to refer the case to Crown Court of they deem it too serious about being heard by them or if it is an incredibly complex case. If you are charged with an offence under Section 18, the case will be referred to Crown Court for trial on a future date. 

What is the penalty for GBH?

The maximum penalty for Section 20 offences is five years imprisonment. If it is your first offence or if the injuries inflicted are not considered particularly severe, it is unlikely you would be sent to prison, with fines and community orders preferred under these circumstances. If you are convicted of Section 18 GBH, you are likely to receive a custodial sentence although if it is your first conviction and you are of previous good character, the sentence may be suspended so that you only go to prison if you are convicted of another offence during the period of the sentence. 

Section 18 GBH carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In deciding your sentence, the judge is required to follow guidelines laid out by the Sentencing Council, which balance the level of injury with culpability. 

Action Plan

If you have been arrested for GBH or if you have any questions, concerns or queries about anything to do with a GBH case, get in touch and speak to one of our criminal lawyers who specialise in cases of violent assault. 

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