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09 December 2020

What does causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent mean?

6 mins

Our Criminal Defence Team have extensive experience in representing clients who have been accused of the most serious types of assault.

This short article explains the offence of wounding or causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent which is the most serious form of assault other than attempted murder. Commonly referred to as GBH, it is part of a range of offences known as ‘offences against the person’. These offences range in seriousness as followed:

  1. Common Assault
  2. Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)
  3. Wounding or Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm
  4. Wounding or Causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent
  5. Murder

Wounding or causing GBH with Intent is a statutory offence, which is found in section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA). The act states:

‘Whoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person, with 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 an offence, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to imprisonment for life’.

The offence carries with it a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment. If accused of this offence it is crucial that you seek expert legal advice at the earliest possible stage.


Wounding or causing GBH with Intent is considered so serious that it is triable on indictment only. This means that it can only be heard in the Crown Court (rather than the Magistrates’ Court).

Elements of the Offence

A person can only be convicted of a criminal offence if all of the elements of the offence are proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution must prove the following elements in order for a person to be convicted of causing GBH with Intent:

  1. Causing:
    1. The normal rules of causation apply here. This means that the jury must be satisfied that the act(s) of the defendant were the cause of the GBH. Effectively, it must be proved that ‘but for’ the act(s) of the defendant, the victim would not have suffered an injury that amounted to GBH. The jury must also be sure that the defendant was the operating and substantial cause of the GBH (i.e. that there were no subsequent events which would render the defendant’s part in the injury to have been very small).
  2. Grievous Bodily Harm:
    1. GBH means ‘serious harm’. Said ‘harm’ need not require treatment or leave the victim with lasting consequences, nor is it necessary for the injury to be so grave as to seriously interfere with the victim’s comfort or health. ‘Harm’ can also include psychiatric injury, if sufficiently serious (such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder arising from the incident itself), but the cause and effect of such a psychiatric injury will need to be proved by expert evidence in court. Several injuries that would be considered minor on their own can be considered grievous if sufficiently serious when considered cumulatively.
  3. Intent:
    1. In order for a defendant to be convicted of this offence, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to cause harm which amounts in law to serious harm. 

Where wounding with Intent to cause GBH is alleged, the prosecution must also prove the following:

  1. Wound:
    1. It must be proved that the continuity of the victim’s skin was broken. This means that the rupture of internal blood vessels (i.e. a bruise) is insufficient to constitute a ‘wound’. If there is evidence of any breaking of the skin (i.e. a cut), then the actual injury itself need not be severe.



The defence of self-defence (which includes defending another and acting to protect property), if successfully pleaded in Court will result in an acquittal.

The test to be applied for self-defence is that a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances as he honestly believes them to be in the defence of himself or another or property. Therefore, a person may be entitled to rely on self-defence if:

  1. He or she genuinely believed that it was necessary to act in defence.
  2. His or her response was reasonable.

In order to hurdle the first limb of the test, it is necessary to establish the circumstances in which the force was used. Provided that the defendant honestly believed that he was under attack or that someone else was being unlawfully assaulted), it does not matter that his belief was mistaken, as long as the belief itself was honestly held. Similarly, if the defendant mistakenly believed that he was being attacked with a deadly weapon, and he used such force in response as was reasonable to repel an attack with such a deadly weapon, then he can rely on the defence of self-defence. It does not matter that he was in fact being attacked with something which was far less deadly.

Once the jury has concluded that the defendant genuinely believed that it was necessary to act in self-defence, on the basis that he, or someone else, was facing (or believed they were facing) an attack, the jury must move on to consider whether the level of force used by the defendant in response was reasonable. The law differentiates between ‘non-householder’ cases and  ‘householder’ cases.

In ‘non-householder’ cases, the jury must decide whether the level of force used in response was objectively reasonable, given the facts as the defendant believed them to be. Note that the jury must bear in mind that the defendant may well have acted ‘in the heat of the moment’ in response to a threat, and may well have been unable to ‘weigh to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action’.

With regards to ‘householder’ cases, section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 sets out the use of force in self-defence at a place of residence, stating that it will not be reasonable if it is ‘grossly disproportionate’. Firstly, the jury must be asked whether the degree of force used was grossly disproportionate in the circumstances as the defendant subjectively believed them to be. If it was, the defence of self-defence must fail. If it was not, the jury must move on to consider whether the level of force was reasonable.

How to instruct Bindmans

Our Criminal Law team has extensive experience in representing clients who have been accused of and charged with, wounding or causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent. If you have any questions about this you can complete the form here or call the direct line number to speak to our specialist team +44 (0) 20 7014 2020 or in the case of emergency, call +44 (0)20 7305 5638 for our out of hours police station assistance. We will discuss your case with you during a preliminary consultation and advise you on the nature of any police investigation, or the case against you if you have been charged.

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