Section 18 Charge: Examining The Element Of Intent

A Section 18 offence is the most serious form of grievous bodily harm (GBH) or unlawful wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The key differentiator between a Section 18 charge and the comparatively lesser charge of Section 20 is whether there was intent to harm or wound another person. This distinction makes all the difference in the eyes of the law.

Should a defendant plead guilty or be found guilty of intentionally inflicting GBH or wounding, the maximum custodial sentence is life imprisonment. Compare this to a so-called “reckless” charge of GBH or wounding without intent that carries a maximum jail term of five years, and you can quickly see the gravity involved with the notion of intent in Section 18 cases.

Here, DPP Law examines the element of intent in Section 18 charges, covering the different forms of provable intent, the various types of evidence used to establish intent, and what might happen should prosecutors fail to prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Is The Difference Between A Section 18 Offence And Other Forms Of Assault?

There are three main assault offences set out in law: common assault, actual bodily harm (ABH) grievous bodily harm (GBH) or unlawful wounding. Each is categorised by the level of harm inflicted on the victim. 

  • Common assault – At the lower end of the scale, common assault is when a person inflicts violence on another or leads them to believe they are going to be attacked. Physical violence does not necessarily have to be involved. Threatening words or a shaken fist can be classed as common assault. Where physical violence is used, whereby no or very slight injuries are inflicted, this is classed as “battery”. A poke or push can amount to a battery.
  • Actual bodily harm (ABH) – An assault occasioning actual bodily harm (which falls under section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861) must have caused physical injury to the victim that is more than “trifling or transient” or psychiatric injury that goes beyond “fear or anxiety.”
  • Grievous bodily harm (GBH) / unlawful wounding – Unlawful wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm means the victim has suffered some kind of “really serious harm” that doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent or dangerous. Injuries can be physical, psychiatric or by way of an infection (such as through sexual activity). Wounding constitutes the breaking of the outer or inner skin.

All three assault offences can be deemed “reckless” or “intentional”, which will impact the sentencing decision. In the case of GBH or unlawful wounding, this distinction will either lead to a Section 20 charge for reckless acts or a Section 18 charge for intentional acts. As such, the biggest difference between a Section 18 offence and other forms of assault is the severity of punishment, with the potential for life imprisonment in the worst cases.

Can You Commit A Section 18 Offence Without Intent?

The short answer is: no. For a charge of GBH or unlawful wounding to be considered under the most serious category of a Section 18 offence it must be shown that there was intent to cause really serious harm (including psychological) or wounding that breaks the skin (either externally or internally). As such, a jury needs to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were unlawful, malicious and planned.  

What Can Influence The Determination Of Intent In Section 18 Offence Cases?

There are various culpability factors outlined by the Sentencing Council that are used to determine intent, with the highest degree of culpability associated with the following characteristics:

  • A significant degree of planning or premeditation
  • Victims are 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
  • Revenge

How Does Intent Affect The Severity Of Penalties In Section 18 Offence Cases?

Sentencing for a conviction of a Section 18 offence is determined by a combination of the level of culpability (high, medium or lesser) and the level of really serious harm and its impact on the victim. Punishments are meted out on a sliding scale, with the highest levels of culpability and harm resulting in the heaviest penalties – typically in the range of 10-16 years.

Aggravating factors that can lead to a longer sentence include previous convictions and committing the offence whilst on bail. Mitigating factors that may lead to a shorter sentence include remorse, a significant degree of provocation, and being the sole or primary carer for dependent relatives.  

Can Intent Be Inferred From The Circumstances Surrounding The Assault?

In some instances where a victim has suffered very serious or life-threatening injuries, the police or prosecutors may make a case that the offender must have intended to inflict such harm. However, this type of allegation can be treated as a “rebuttable presumption,” whereby the defence will argue that although the defendant caused the injuries, they were the result of reckless rather than intentional actions and should be treated as a Section 20 offence.

What Types Of Evidence Are Commonly Used To Establish Intent In Section 18 Cases?

The types of evidence normally gathered during a police investigation include statements from the accused, victim and witnesses as well as things like forensic evidence (including DNA), CCTV footage, and digital evidence from smartphones or computers. The role of the defence solicitor is to collect as much evidence as possible to refute any assertion of intent. Such evidence might include text messages, witness statements and mobile phone footage. 

What Happens If The Prosecution Fails To Prove Intent Beyond Reasonable Doubt?

If there is sufficient evidence to prove that you did not intend to cause serious harm during the incident that led to your being charged with assault, you may be able to have the offence changed to a Section 20 charge rather than Section 18. This will result in a lesser maximum sentence, and you won’t face life imprisonment. Moreover, a strong defence, such as acting in self-defence using “reasonable force”, could even lead to a full acquittal.

Contact DPP Law Today For Legal Advice

If you or someone you know is facing Section 18 charges, it’s crucial to seek expert legal advice immediately. Our team of experienced assault solicitors specialise in criminal defence and can provide the guidance you need from your arrest right through to your appearance in court, providing you with the best possible defence. 

Contact us via our emergency arrest line on 0333 200 5859 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – or send us a message and our legal team will get back to you as swiftly as we can.