There are different categories of assault. These are Common Assault/S39 Assault, Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH/ S47 Assault), Grievous Bodily Harm (S20 /  GBH) and Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent (S18 / GBH with Intent)


Common Assault

This is the least serious offence that is only tried in the Magistrates Court. It has a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment. This would be charged, for example, where the injured party has been punched, kicked or slapped and there is no major injury, save for bruising or reddening.



This is a more serious assault. This offence can be tried both in the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court. In the Magistrates Court the maximum sentence is 6 months. In the Crown Court the maximum sentence is [5 years?]. This offence would be committed when the injuries suffered are, for example, a black eye, broken nose, or cut to the skin.



This is the third category of assault. It can be tried in either the Magistrates or Crown Court. These offences are more often than not tried in the Crown Court. GBH is often described as malicious wounding and as such is charged where the assault is particularly nasty or the injuries are particularly serious such as broken limbs or skull fractures. Quite often this will be charged where a weapon has been used to cause injury. A weapon can include a booted or shoed foot where kicking on the ground is alleged. Sentencing in the Magistrates is up to 6 months. In the Crown Court it is up to [14 years]


GBH with Intent

This is the most serious offence of assault that someone can be charged with. Also known as S18 wounding. This offence can only be tried in the Crown Court and has a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment. The prosecution have to prove that the wounding was malicious and it was inflicted with the intention of causing grievous harm. An example of this offence would be a “glassing” in a public house or if someone uses their car to drive at someone. A weapon does not have to have been used but the use of a weapon is always a strong indication of the intention.



The most common defence is self defence. In English Law a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large. This is a highly complex area of law especially in light of recent changes that allow householders to protect their properties from burglars.