What Is the Difference Between Assault, Battery, ABH, and GBH?

In any situation where you require legal representation, it’s important that you have all the information about the charges you are facing. This is particularly important when there is a suggestion of violence, where the potential consequences of a criminal conviction include lengthy prison sentences.

In order to ensure that you have all the information available to you, DPP has prepared this blog post. Below, we will outline the definition of battery vs assault, as well as an exploration of the definition of the difference between ABH and GBH under English Common Law.

Whether you have been directly involved in a serious case of assault and battery, or you know someone who has, you may be familiar with the terminology to classify different serious crimes. These can become extremely important to define exactly how serious the crime is, as well as the severity of the eventual sentence handed down to the perpetrator.

Read on to learn more.

What are Battery and Assault in Law?

As detailed on our service page, a common mistake when it comes to assault and battery is to assume that assault refers to the violent act of a person hitting or striking someone else, while battery refers to threatening behaviour. In fact, it’s the opposite. In  English Common Law, an assault charge refers to the threat of violence. Battery, meanwhile, is the physical and offensive contact between the perpetrator and the victim.

Below are a few examples of each so the difference is clear:

  • Assault – shaking a fist, racist remarks or crude gestures
  • Battery – physical contact such as a slap, punch or using a weapon to hurt someone

In this regard, assault is usually defined as inciting fear or purposefully aggravating a stranger intentionally or recklessly. Battery, meanwhile, refers to physical touching of another person against their permission in a provocative or even violent way which results in physical harm.

Please Note: Battery is a criminal offence under English Common Law only. In Northern Ireland, the charge of battery is considered synonymous with aggravated assault. Under Scots Law, the charge of assault includes acts which would be considered battery in England and Wales.

What’s the Difference Between ABH and GBH?

The key difference between ABH and GBH lies in the intent of the accused. Under ABH, the accused party only needs to be guilty of willingly applying a certain level of force against another person. In contrast, GBH requires there to have been the intent to cause harm.

The difference between these two forms of assault was codified in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which created two subdivisions of battery: Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). These two offences are different to Common Assault – which is mostly covered by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Continue on for more information about the difference between ABH and GBH.

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm or ABH is the less severe of these two forms of battery. It was created as a provision under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The most common form of ABH is a scratch, bruise or even a bite mark. It may also be classified as ABH if the victim has been pushed and ends up banging their head or receiving a scratch when falling on the floor.

Also known as a section 47 offence, ABH carries a maximum sentence of 5 years, though is more commonly dealt with by giving the perpetrator a fine or community order. However, every case is handled separately as an attack might be racially motivated or could be linked to other crimes the perpetrator is guilty of.

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)

Going further, Grievous Bodily Harm, as covered under Section 20 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861, is the preferred charge if the attack was particularly violent, premeditated or involves a weapon such as a knife.

As with assault and battery, the punishment handed down depends entirely on the circumstances and how severe the injuries are sustained by the victim. It is also judged whether the perpetrator intended to attack the victim or whether the attack was self-defence or even an accident while involved in a scuffle with many other people.

A section 20 offence is usually the lighter offence and concludes the attack was not intentional, with a maximum sentence of five years. However, a section 18 offence of GBH would be an intentional crime that causes severe injuries but not death. This can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment as the injuries can often be life-changing for the victim.

Difference Between Assault and Battery: Frequently Asked Questions

What’s Worse – GBH or ABH?

GBH is considered the more severe offence, as the actions that are covered by this particular term are ones that result in wounding, broken bones or other serious injuries. This is reflected in the possible penalties, which state that GBH is punishable by sentences up to life in prison. In contrast, the maximum sentence for ABH is a 5-year custodial term.

Are there Mitigating Factors Against an Assault or Battery Charge?

There are a few mitigating factors such as self-defence, defence of property and the prevention of crime, but usually, the penalty for assault can range from a fine to a short time in prison.

Battery, on the other hand, is a lot more severe and depending on the severity of the attack can often land the perpetrator a lengthy jail sentence.

What is the Maximum Sentence for Assault or Battery Charges?

Common assault sentencing guidelines state that the maximum sentence for this particular crime is 26 months in prison. If a person is found guilty of ABH, they may face anything up to a 5-year custodial term, while perpetrators of GBH may be sentenced to life in prison, depending on the circumstances of their offence.

What to do if You’ve Been Accused of Assault, Battery ABH or GBH

If you’ve been accused of assault, battery, ABH or GBH, or would like any further information; speak to our team of expert solicitors in criminal defence today.

DPP Law’s experienced criminal law solicitors can help you through the entire process – from giving you expert, well-researched legal advice at the police station to standing with you and delivering a robust at the crown court.

Get in touch with DPP Law today.