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Offences against the Person Act 1861

Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (section 47, Offences against the Person Act 1861)

There are three basic types of assault offence set out in law – common assault, actual bodily harm (ABH) and wounding / grievous bodily harm (GBH). They are primarily defined by the harm caused to the victim – with common assault at the lower end of harm and GBH at the upper end.


They cover everything from threatening words to a severe physical attack that leaves the victim permanently disabled.


For this offence, the assault (which can be intentional or reckless as above) must have caused some physical harm to the victim.  It does not need to be serious or permanent but must be more than trifling or transient. Some psychiatric harm can also be covered by this offence, but must be more than just fear or anxiety.


Although injuries that are more than ‘transient or trifling’ can be classified as ABH, in practice someone who causes no injury or injuries which are not serious is likely to be charged with common assault.

The maximum sentence for ABH is five years imprisonment and cases can be heard in the magistrates’ courts or Crown Court.

These offences can also be racially and religiously aggravated.


The Sentencing Guidelines


The information on this page was correct at the time of publication.

Image by Samuele Errico Piccarini

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