What are the consequences if I am arrested for GBH?

Updated April 17, 2017

GBH, also known as Grievous Bodily Harm, is a criminal offence in England and Wales, defined by the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. If you are arrested for GBH, you may be charged under either Section 18 or Section 20 of this act. Offences under Section 20 are often referred to as "unlawful wounding" or "inflicting grievous bodily harm" and are less serious than offences under Section 18, commonly referred to as "wounding with intent" or "inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent". The consequences of being found guilty of GBH will vary depending on the severity of the injury inflicted and whether intent can be proven.

Section 18

The maximum penalty for someone found guilty of GBH under Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act is life imprisonment. Prison sentences are highest when the court decides that an offender has caused "greater harm" and has "higher culpability". Greater harm is deemed to have taken place when an injury is serious in the context of the offence, if the victim is particularly vulnerable or if there has been a sustained and repeated assault on the same victim. Factors which indicate higher culpability include a crime which is racially aggravated, a significant degree of premeditation and use of a weapon. Taking into account these factors and the individual circumstances of the victim, the court is likely to sentence the offender to between three and sixteen years in prison.

Section 20

The consequences of being found guilty of GBH under Section 20 of the Act are likely to be less severe. The maximum prison sentence is five years and this may be reduced to a community order in circumstances where culpability is determined to be low. This would include circumstances where the offender had a subordinate role in a gang, was suffering from a learning disability or was engaged in self defence. Community orders typically require the offender to complete a certain number of hours of unpaid work and may also impose a curfew on the offender for up to 12 hours a day.


GBH is not recognised as a separate offence under Scottish law, but crimes which would be defined as GBH in England and Wales will fall under the general Scottish laws surrounding "Assault to Injury" and "Assault to Severe Injury," depending on the severity of the crime. Assault cases are normally tried in the Sheriff's Court. If an assault case is held before a Sheriff only, the maximum sentence which can be imposed is 12 months imprisonment or a fine of £10,000. If the case is held before a Sheriff with a jury, the maximum prison sentence is five years and the potential fine is unlimited.

Consequences in Northern Ireland

The consequences of being arrested for GBH in Northern Ireland are similar to if the crime had been committed in England and Wales. The maximum sentence for offences committed after September 2004 is seven years' imprisonment. For less serious cases, offenders can be tried in a Magistrates Court, where the punishment ranges from 12 months imprisonment to a fine of £5,000.

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About the Author

Rachel Turner has been writing professionally since 2007. She has been published in a variety of local and regional publications such as "Redbrick" and "Window Magazine." Turner holds a Bachelor of Science in mathematical sciences from the University of Birmingham and is a Chartered Accountant.