What Is The Difference Between Assault, Battery, ABH And GBH?

What does assault mean?

An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes someone to expect that unlawful force is about to be inflicted upon them. This means that inciting fear, including where someone might pretend to act out a more serious offence, can be considered assault, even if there was no contact between the defendant and the victim can be considered assault.

Common assault (including battery) is dealt with under s.39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. 

Examples of assault

  • Attempting to spit on the victim
  • Miming the act of hitting, punching, or kicking the victim
  • Brandishing a deadly or non-deadly weapon in a way that suggests the victim might be hurt by that object
  • Shaking a fist
  • Making a threat or a racist comment

A victim of common assault only has to feel threatened, there is no requirement of physical contact. 

What is battery?

Unlike assault, battery occurs when there is unlawful contact between the perpetrator and the victim. Battery is committed when someone intentionally or recklessly applies unlawful force to another person which may or may not result in injury.

Examples of battery

  • Pushing
  • Punching
  • Slapping
  • Spitting
  • Hurting someone with a weapon

The victim may suffer minor injuries or no injuries at all. The application of force is enough. More severe injuries caused by unlawful contact are dealt with by either ABH or GBH. This could be everything from minor scratches/bruises to broken bones.

What is the punishment for assault and battery?

The sentence for assault or battery varies depending on the seriousness of the crime and the particular circumstances of the offence. In the UK, sentences for Assault and Battery are usually up to six months’ imprisonment, and/or a fine up to £5,000.

What is ABH (actual bodily harm)?

Actual bodily harm (ABH) is a criminal offence under Section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.  The difference between ABH and common assault is that ABH requires a degree of injury whereas common assault does not. ABH requires an injury to be caused that goes beyond a trivial one.

ABH and GBH (grievous bodily harm) are terms used to describe the severity of injuries in cases where there has been an unlawful application of force. It is effectively a more serious form of battery.

Examples of ABH

  • Attack with a weapon
  • Punching
  • Attack with an object intended to cause harm

In cases of ABH, a victim’s injuries are considered relatively minor, even if the victim might need hospital treatment. Injuries as a result of ABH include:

  • Grazes 
  • Bruises
  • Swelling

What is GBH (grievous bodily harm)?

If an attack is particularly violent, premeditated or involves a weapon such as a knife or even a plank of wood, the attack would be classified as Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). Grievous bodily harm (GBH) is a criminal offence under Sections 18 and 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

Unlike ABH, cases of GBH cause serious injuries to the victim, as a result of a premeditated or intentional attack (in the case of s18 cases) or reckless conduct which cause really serious harm (s20 cases). The increased seriousness therefore carries a longer sentence – up to life in prison.

GBH can also be known as “wounding” where all layers of the skin have been broken by the unlawful application of force. 

Examples of GBH

  • Lacerations
  • Broken bones
  • Fracturing the skull
  • Injuries that impair vision, motor skills or cognition


FAQs on assault, battery, ABH and GBH

Can assault be verbal?

Yes, assault is when someone fears that unlawful force is about to be inflicted upon them. This could be expected if someone shouts, makes threats and/or uses racist language.

Can assault be non-physical?

Yes, common assault, by its definition, is non-physical. Physical assault is known as battery in UK law.

Can assault occur without battery?

Yes, any threatening behaviour that makes a victim feel threatened, or fear that someone else is about to be physically violent is defined as assault.

Will an assault charge affect me?

If convicted, an assault charge will stay on your record for life – although it will become “spent” after a certain length of time, depending on what sentence you are given. This is likely to affect your employability since a basic DBS check will show any “unspent” convictions. An advance DBS check may even show “spent convictions” where it is considered to be a relevant conviction. 

Assault how many years in jail?

The maximum prison sentence for common assault and battery in the UK is 6 months and/or a £5,000 fine.

For ABH the maximum prison sentence is 5 years. 

For section 20 GBH the maximum prison sentence is 7 years.

For section 18 GBH with intent, the maximum prison sentence is life imprisonment. 

Although it is worth noting that the above are the maximum sentence and not what is given in every case. With well-presented mitigation – a lesser sentence can often be achieved. 

Can assault charges be dropped?

There are several instances where the charges might be dropped; where there is a lack of evidence, any charges were in self-defence or the victim chooses not to pursue the charges.

How long can I wait to report an assault?

So long as you have evidence of the charges, there is no limit to how long you can wait until you inform the police/ your solicitor. Although it is advisable that if you have been the victim of an assault that you report this as soon as possible. 

What happens when the assault is provoked?

Being provoked is not, in itself, a defence to assault. However, self-defence is a full defence. Whether self-defence is available as a defence depends on the circumstances and must be necessary and proportionate. The judge/magistrates/jury will rule on this defence. It’s important that you disclose this information to your solicitor immediately, so they can help build a defence for your case.

What happens when the assault happened while I was drunk?

Again, this is dependent on the circumstances. If both parties were intoxicated this defence could still work. Although voluntary intoxication can nullify a claim of self-defence so please speak to your solicitor about these circumstances, so they can consider this as part of your defence.

How do I get out of an assault charge?

If you have been charged with assault, or you believe you may be charged with assault, please get in contact with our specialist assault solicitors here at Martin Cray & Co.



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