ABH and receiving a Police Caution

Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) is a criminal offence under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It is an intermediate level of assault, more serious than common assault but less so than Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). ABH is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly assaults another, causing them physical or psychological harm that is more than transient or trifling.

It is comparatively rare for a caution to be issued for ABH, as opposed to assault by beating, but the police do issue cautions for ABH fairly frequently.

In our experience where a caution for ABH is issued the injuries will be less serious compared to cases that are charged and taken to court. Often where an ABH caution has been issued, the injuries are in fact more consistent with assault by beating.

What are ABH Injuries?

The injuries classified under ABH can vary widely but must be more than mere superficial injuries like minor cuts or bruises.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will look at the circumstances of a case to see if it is more serious than a simple assault case, such as where there are repeated threats or assaults on the same person, or where there is significant violence. If there has been punching, kicking or head-butting, as opposed to simply pushing or slapping, then ABH will be more likely. Also if a weapon has been used, it is more likely to be considered ABH, but if the injuries are of the most serious nature then GBH/malicious wounding would be considered instead. It would be very rare for a caution to be issued where GBH injuries are present.

ABH injuries include damaged teeth or bones, extensive and severe bruising, cuts requiring suturing, and those that result in a loss of consciousness. If injuries require medical treatment, then that may also indicate ABH injuries. The most serious injuries would be GBH, so where the victim is comatose, or bones are shattered, and there are deep penetrating wounds, then a charge of GBH over ABH will be considered.

Assault by Beating compared to ABH

Assault by beating, or battery, involves the application of force upon another person without their consent and, without lawful excuse.

Battery is distinguished from common assault; common assault is only placing someone in fear of immediate unlawful force, whereas battery involves the actual application of unlawful force.

Battery is a summary only offence which means it can only be heard before a magistrate’s court (unless charged alongside a more serious offence) and there is a time limit within which it must be charged, or a caution issued.

The term ‘beating’ or battery does not mean the force used must be very significant or forceful, and only minimal amounts of physical force can be covered, including throwing water or spitting at someone. The harm caused can also include psychological injury, but it has to amount to a recognisable psychiatric illness, such as depression – simply causing someone fear is not harm for the purposes of ABH, but may amount to a charge of common assault, or threats to kill, if the victim fears that the threat to kill will be carried out.

Typical injuries where battery will be considered are where there are no more than the following injuries caused:

  • Grazes;
  • Scratches;
  • Abrasions;
  • Minor bruising;
  • Swellings;
  • Reddening of the skin;
  • Superficial cuts.

Assault by Beating instead of ABH

Often the police will start by accusing a suspect of ABH, but the matter will be negotiated down to an assault by beating at the police station, or if charged, at court. The police may even sometimes overstate a case, claiming that it is ABH, in order to put pressure on a suspect to accept a caution, or plead guilty, to the lesser charge of assault by beating.

Although it may often be the case that by dropping a charge to the lesser offence of assault by beating, a suspect will have received a more lenient outcome, sometimes by the police holding out the offer of the lower offence, it might result in an unfair or undesirable outcome. We have seen cases where a suspect has admitted to an assault, simply to avoid being charged or cautioned with ABH, where in fact they were innocent. In such cases we have been able to have the caution overturned, and the client’s PNC record expunged.

Self Defence

The usual defence to ABH, or battery, is self-defence. This can be where a suspect has been actually attacked, but also includes pre-emptive self-defence depending on the circumstances.

A frequent issue that arises in assault cases is where a suspect is intoxicated and cannot recall what happened. In such cases the police will usually have a clear advantage during the police station interview, and will often present evidence that they believe supports the fact that the accused committed the offence. We have however seen cases where the police have omitted to provide an arrestee with relevant evidence, or have failed to follow up on enquiries that revealed the person’s innocence. In such cases we will gather together the evidence that shows the client may have been acting in self-defence, despite not recalling some or all of the incident.

Even in cases where the client is not intoxicated, we have seen a number of cases where clients have simply accepted a caution for assault (battery or ABH) where they knew they had been acting in self-defence, but were so terrified of being in the police station, they simply accepted what the police said, in order to be released from the police station as soon as possible.

The Impact on Employment caused by an ABH Caution

ABH is a “specified” offence. What this means for someone who has been issued with a caution for ABH, is that the caution will be permanently disclosable on both a standard and enhanced DBS certificate. Namely the caution will be disclosed for the rest of that person’s life, unless it is deleted from the PNC. Furthermore, if you apply for an enhanced DBS check having received a caution for ABH, it is possible you will be referred for barring by the DBS.

Professionals who have received a caution for ABH will often have significant difficulties in securing employment or may face dismissal from their current roles. Typical professions that will have employment or regulatory difficulties if they have been issued with a caution for ABH or assault will be:

  • Legal
  • Accountancy
  • FCA regulated finance
  • Health care professionals including doctors, dentists, psychologists and nurses
  • Social workers
  • Care workers
  • Teachers
  • Those who work in roles that need Security Clearance or Developed Vetting
  • Anyone working in a regulated role with children or vulnerable adults
  • People working in the gambling industry
  • Court Staff
  • SIA regulated security staff

Often clients, where they have received a caution, will also have associated regulatory proceedings with bodies such as the HCPC, the GDC and GMC – we are able to help clients with these proceedings, alongside getting cautions deleted from the Police National Computer.

ABH Caution Travel Restrictions and Visa Complications

Many countries have strict requirements when it comes to criminal records, and a caution for ABH will often cause significant difficulties when applying for a visa or citizenship. An ABH caution will be revealed on an ACRO Police certificate for 5 years, and thereafter as an “no live trace” disclosure. See here for details about the significance of a “no live trace” record.

Caution Removal Lawyers

If you have received a caution for ABH, common assault or battery, and are worried about its consequences, then please get in touch.

We have successfully removed hundreds of cautions for our clients over the years, including many assault and ABH records.