Assault occasioning actual bodily harm, commonly known as ABH, is a more serious form of assault, one step higher than common assault and battery, but less serious than GBH and wounding. For information about common assault and battery, please see our Fact Sheet on the topic: Common Assault and Battery: What is a common assault and battery charge?

ABH was made an offence a long time ago, in 1861, under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act. The section in its current form states as follows:

Whosoever shall be convicted upon an indictment of any assault occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude.

How long might you go to jail for ABH?

If you are prosecuted and convicted before a court, the maximum sentence you can receive for ABH is 5 years imprisonment. There is also a racially or religiously aggravated form of ABH, that carries a higher maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment. If the offence is committed against an emergency worker, such as a police officer or ambulance worker, then the Court is required to treat this as an “aggravating factor” and the sentence will be increased. Similarly, if an offence is committed against a person “providing a public service”, again the offence will be aggravated.

Although it is possible to receive a lengthy prison sentence for ABH, it is in fact possible to receive a police caution for ABH. If the injury caused is a bit more serious than battery, but not very serious, then the police may consider a police caution. For details on what facts might lead to a battery charge, rather than ABH, please see here: What is the difference between battery and ABH.

Can I receive a caution for ABH?

Yes, you can receive a police caution for ABH. Generally, to receive a caution for ABH, rather than being charged and prosecuted at court, the injuries that have been caused will have to be low level, such as minor cutting and/or some bruising, but not excessive bruising.

We have seen cautions being issued for broken or knocked out teeth, but this is very rare – where permanent injuries are caused, or broken bones or serious bruising is inflicted, an ABH or even GBH/wounding charge and prosecution will likely be preferred by the police and CPS, over a caution.

In order for the police to issue a caution for ABH, you must first admit to the allegation, which will mean you will need to accept that you either intentionally or recklessly caused the complainant to sustain unlawful personal violence, and that the assault resulted in actual bodily harm.

What is the difference between GBH and ABH?

The dividing line between ABH and GBH is not always clear, but GBH and wounding injuries are of the most serious nature, whereas ABH injuries will fall between the most serious injuries, and more minor injuries classified as a battery.

ABH injuries can include more serious cuts and bruising, but less than shattered bones, severe internal injuries, and deep penetrating wounds. “Bodily harm” includes any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the complainant. Actual injury does not need to be permanent, but must be more than merely “transient or trifling”. It can include a momentary loss of consciousness, but placing someone in a coma, would more likely result in a wounding/GBH charge. ABH can include psychiatric injury, but this must be proven by an expert and excludes simple distress/anguish.

ABH can also be charged were someone creates a set of circumstances knowing that an injury is likely to result – in a notable case, DPP v Santa-Bermudez, the Court found a defendant guilty were a police officer, having been told by a defendant that there was nothing sharp in his pocket, then went on to prick her finger on a needle whilst conducting a search of the defendant’s pockets.

Where something can be reasonably foreseen as the natural consequences of a defendant’s actions, they will be held liable for them. For example, in the case of R v Roberts, the accused had made unwanted sexual advances to the complainant when they were travelling in his car. He told her about his sexual exploits and of how he had used force on women in the past. He then attempted to remove her clothing and the complainant, being terrified, jumped from the moving car resulting in ABH injuries being caused.

How serious is an ABH charge?

As you can receive a lengthy prison sentence for ABH, it is a serious offence. Also, if you receive a caution or conviction for ABH, you will find it very difficult to enter or remain in any form of trusted and regulated profession. Your ABH caution or conviction will be permanently disclosable on an enhanced and standard DBS certificate.

If the police and CPS decide that your case is too serious for a police caution, then you will be charged and brought before a court.

If you are found guilty, the court will then use their sentencing guidelines to determine whether your case is: High Culpability, Medium Culpability or Low Culpability.

A High Culpability case is where there is:

  • Significant degree of planning or premeditation
  • Victim obviously vulnerable due to age, personal characteristics or circumstances
  • Use of a highly dangerous weapon or weapon equivalent
  • Strangulation/suffocation/asphyxiation
  • Leading role in group activity
  • Prolonged/persistent assault

A Low Culpability case is where there is:

  • No weapon used
  • Excessive self defence
  • Impulsive/spontaneous and short-lived assault
  • Mental disorder or learning disability, where linked to the commission of the offence

After the Court has determined the level of culpability, the court will then need to determine the level of harm caused. These are again placed into three categories:

  • Category 1

Serious physical injury or serious psychological harm and/or substantial impact upon victim

  • Category 2

Harm falling between categories 1 and 3

  • Category 3

Some level of physical injury or psychological harm with limited impact upon victim

The court will then need to determine a starting point sentence based on the level of harm and culpability, which are set out in the guidelines, and then specify the sentence up or down from that point, within that particular range. So, for cases where the harm is at a category 3 level, and the culpability is low, the starting point sentence is a medium level community order with a range of sentences from a band B fine to 26 weeks’ imprisonment. For a high culpability case, where the harm is in category 1, then the starting point sentence is 2 years 6 months’ imprisonment, with a range of 1 year 6 months’ – 4 years’ imprisonment.

Factors that might increase the seriousness of an ABH case are:

  • Previous relevant convictions
  • Committing the offence whilst on bail
  • Assault based on hostility due to the victims disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity
  • Deliberate spitting or coughing
  • Offence committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public or against a person coming to the assistance of an emergency worker
  • Offence committed in prison (where not taken into account as a statutory aggravating factor)
  • Offence committed in a domestic context
  • History of violence or abuse towards victim by offender
  • Presence of children
  • Gratuitous degradation of victim
  • Abuse of power and/or position of trust
  • Any steps taken to prevent the victim reporting an incident, obtaining assistance and/or from assisting or supporting the prosecution
  • Commission of offence whilst under the influence of alcohol/drugs
  • Offence committed whilst on licence or subject to post sentence supervision
  • Failure to comply with current court orders

Factors that might reduce the seriousness are:

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions
  • Remorse
  • Good character and/or exemplary conduct
  • Significant degree of provocation
  • History of significant violence or abuse towards the offender by the victim
  • Age and/or lack of maturity
  • Mental disorder or learning disability, where not linked to the commission of the offence
  • Sole or primary carer for dependent relative(s)
  • Determination and/or demonstration of steps taken to address addiction or offending behaviour
  • Serious medical conditions requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment

Will a caution for ABH stay on your record?

ABH is a specified offence for the purposes of the Sentencing Act 2020, Schedule 18 – this means that for regulated roles where an enhanced or standard DBS check is required a caution or conviction for ABH will be permanently disclosable. If you have received a caution for ABH it may be possible to have this caution deleted from the PNC, depending on the circumstances.

If your caution or conviction is not deleted or overturned, it will remain on the PNC until you reach 100 years of age.

Does ABH come up on a DBS check?

Yes, ABH will come up on a DBS check, but it will depend on the level of check, and what your sentence was. For standard and enhanced DBS checks any caution or conviction for ABH will show up indefinitely.

If you do not work in a regulated sector, and you only need a basic DBS certificate, your record will show up according to the basic DBS check disclosure rules.

Defences to ABH

The typical defence to an ABH charge will be self-defence. For details about defences to assault generally, including consent, child chastisement, and assaulting a trespasser, see here: General Defences to Assault.

Police Caution Removal and ABH Cautions

If you have been issued with a police caution for ABH, common assault, battery, or any other offence, we can help you.

We have had hundreds of cautions removed over the years, including for ABH.

We will be able to provide you with expert representation, at an affordable fixed fee.

If you would like an initial conversation with our friendly and approachable office manager Myriam, then please get in touch.