What is Common Assault? An Introduction to Sentencing Guidelines

If you’ve been accused of common assault, having experts guiding you through any legal process is always the answer to a smoother experience and a more positive outcome. DPP Law’s team are experts in navigating common assault sentencing guidelines and will be the support you need to relieve stress.

They can explain everything you need to know, including what is common assault and the different sentencing guidelines depending on the type of assault.

What is common assault?

At its core, Common Assault is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It’s usually committed when someone assaults another person or commits a battery.

Most people imagine assault to be a cut and clear situation, in which someone has intent to do grievous harm to a victim. However, DPP Law experts understand that Common Assault can actually be seen in a variety of circumstances — each of which means leads to slightly different set of common assault sentencing guidelines.


Physical contact does not have to occur for an assault to take place. If the defendant causes another person to fear violence, such as raising their fist at the victim, this is enough to be classed as assault. If physical violence is attempted but isn’t successful, this is also counted as an assault. For example, if a person throws a glass at someone and misses, this could still be classed as assault.


For a person to have committed battery, the defendant must have applied unlawful force to the victim, such as slapping them or spitting at them. In short, any kind of force that has an impact on the victim can be classed as a battery.

Actual bodily harm (ABH)

To have committed actual bodily harm, the accused must have caused some hurt or injury to the victim. However, this injury does not need to be serious or have permanent consequences. Instead, it is outlined to be more than ‘transient’. Psychological harm can be included too, but to qualify, it must be more than anxiety or fear.

Grievous bodily harm (GBH)

If you have been accused of causing grievous bodily harm, the victim will have to prove that the assault caused serious physical harm such as broken bones, psychiatric injury or passing on an infection. To count as a ‘wound’, the victim’s skin must have broken, so bruises and burst blood vessels do not count towards GBH.

Let the experts navigate the common assault sentencing guidelines

With over three decades of experience, DPP Law’s team are experts in understanding the variations in common assault sentencing guidelines, and how they can affect you if you’re facing a common assault allegation.

What are the common assault sentencing guidelines?

When sentencing an individual, Parliament has set the maximum penalty for any offence. Parliament can also create the guidelines for the minimum offence too. However, whenever a court decides the appropriate sentence they must follow any guidelines.

Sentencing for assault depends on the offence type.

The maximum sentence for common assault is six months in custody. However, if the assault is racially or religiously aggravated, the maximum sentence is two years in custody.

An offence of actual bodily harm (ABH) can result in a maximum sentence of five years’ custody, and seven years if the assault is racially or religiously aggravated.

Those found guilty of grievous bodily harm (GBH) can face up to five years of custody. However, if the assault is racially or religiously aggravated, this rises to seven years. If the assault was found to be committed with intent to cause GBH or wounding, the sentence is life imprisonment.

The differences in types of common assault can change these sentences

These guidelines can change if you have been accused of a more specific form of common assault. DPP Law’s team are experts at handling all types of common assault cases, so you can rest in the knowledge that they will be dealing with any and all issues.

Assault by beating

Assault by beating is a different term, but often those found guilty of the crime are sentenced following the guidelines of common assault. This is because battery is often when unlawful force has been applied, which coincides with assault by beating.

This doesn’t mean that the victim had to have experienced physical contact, so if they did not suffer any injury, it would fall under common assault and the appropriate sentencing guidelines would be followed.

Assault on an emergency worker

If the accused is found to have committed an assault on an emergency worker, the sentencing must follow the guidance from the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. If the assault is against an emergency worker, the maximum sentence is one year’s custody.

Caution for common assault

Not all common assault allegations end in the sentencing of time in custody, and if fitting, the police may decide that cautioning is the best option for you if you’ve been accused of common assault.

What is the difference between assault and common assault?

Assault and common assault can easily be distinguished based on the outcome of the crime committed. To find an alleged defendant guilty of assault, the court must determine that the victim experienced a degree of notable injury. However, common assault does not require an injury to have occurred to the victim.

What does the prosecution have to prove to establish common assault?

If you’ve been accused of committing common assault, the prosecution must prove that the assault was intended to cause fear and apprehension in the mind of the victim.

What defence is there against a charge of common assault?

There are defences against a charge of common assault, and the DPP Law team are experts in ensuring your defence is solid. If you’re facing a charge, you can find a defence in explaining you’re justified in using reasonable force in the circumstances to defend yourself from an unlawful assault. This self-defence angle can also be used as a defence to an assault charge.

How long can the police hold you for common assault?

Police can hold you for common assault for up to 24 hours, similar to almost any other situation. However, if it’s exceptional circumstances, the police do hold the right to hold you for a longer period of time, up to 36 or 96 hours.

Use DPP Law’s expertise to guide you through any legal process

With over 35 years of experience, DPP Law can advise solicitors on a variety of different issues and complexities, including:

How long police can hold you in custody depends entirely on the circumstance. Generally, the standard time the police can hold you for is 24 hours until they will need to charge you with a criminal offence or release you. In exceptional circumstances, they can apply to hold you for longer, up to 36 or 96 hours.

Facing assault charges and facing a court can be an incredibly distressing and traumatising experience. There are many terms, situations and clauses to understand, and it can become confusing and almost impossible to navigate without an expert.

Get in touch with DPP Law’s expert team of solicitors to make the process smoother or for further information about common assault sentencing guidelines. They can work to give you the best defence, represent you and ensure that you receive the best outcome possible.