Rubin could take a man out with just one punch, but he never did like to talk about it all that much…

Assaults: Fine if you’re in a boxing ring with a moustache but what if you’re elsewhere? What does the law say?

A few weeks ago I’d been forwarded a question on Twitter from someone curious to know what the difference is between the various levels of assault set out by our good friend the law.

Whilst I’ve written a couple of blogs previously about assault in reference to specific incidents, namely spitting and those happening on the sports field, I realised that I’ve not yet written anything explaining what separates one assault from another in any particular detail.

As assaults are one of the most common reports that we come to investigate, here we go then – a whistle stop tour of the four main types of assault that you might here the news presenters talk about from time to time.

Starting off with the least severe form of assault, we have common assault which comes from S. 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

As you may have gathered if you’ve read my blog on how spitting could be considered an assault, for a S. 39 assault you don’t even need to have made contact with your victim. That you have caused them to ‘apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force’ is enough.

Had contact been made, a S. 39 assault would still be appropriate to record if the victim hasn’t suffered any pain or injury, for example they’d been pushed.

You’ll begin to see that the main factors that separate the different offences covering assault are level of injury and then, as the assaults become more serious, the intent of the offender.

The second form of assault we refer to is S. 47 of one of my favourite old, old laws – 1861′s Offences Against The Person Act.

This one is usually referred to as ‘actual bodily harm’ and means just that, that the victim suffers some physical injury as a result of an assault. This injury can be psychological and doesn’t have to be permanent so that a victim has experienced pain then we have a S. 47 assault.

Getting more serious now, we move up to grievous bodily harm without intent which comes from S. 20 of the Offences Against The Person Act.

The difference between S. 47 and S. 20 is the level of injury caused. The S. 47 we might be looking at unsightly bruises, grazes and red marks but for a S. 20 it’s more likely that we’ll be facing cuts, broken bones and other gory disfigurements.

Beyond S. 20 we have the worst type of assault, the S. 18 which refers to grievous bodily harm with intent. It’s the intent of the offender that makes the difference between S. 20 and S. 18 and as such it’s what we call a crime of ‘specific’ intent.

The difference between S. 20 and S. 18 is that in a S. 18 the offender is believed to have intended to cause grievous bodily harm – they’ve not only caused someone to suffer a serious injury but they’ve specifically meant to do so.

The intent may be proven during an interview or from the circumstances under which the assault has taken place. Was, for example, a weapon used, were there prior threats or was it a sustained assault? All of these factors point towards some intention to seriously injure.

As a slight curve ball, the ‘intent’ can also be to resist or prevent an arrest so if an officer was to, say, suffer a broken arm because he has been kicked by someone he is trying to lawfully arrest then that person has added a S. 18 assault to whatever offence they were already accused of.

So the above of the four levels of assault that we commonly deal with, now to confuse things slightly by mentioning CPS Charging Standards.

Certainly for the more serious levels of assault but also in any lower level of assault that is domestic related, it is the Crown Prosecution Service that makes the decision of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a person and if there is, what they should be charged with.

To help prosecutors make a decision, the CPS publishes Charging Standards which set out the signposts that point towards it being more appropriate to charge one level of assault over another.

The Standards sometimes confuse police officers as much as they do anyone else but help ensure that when people are charged, they are charged in a proportionate way.

What does this mean? Well, take the definition of a S. 20 assault as an example. If you somehow gave an annoying colleague a paper cut then technically you’d have inflicted grievous bodily harm as a cut, no matter how minor, is the result.

The word ‘grievous’ though implies that the wound is serious, whilst any wound is serious to the victim, to the law it wouldn’t be sensible to charge someone for grievous bodily harm if the harm is a paper cut, hence the Charging Standards adjust things slightly.

According to the Charging Standards then, common assault can include grazes, scratches, bruising, superficial cuts and swelling. Actual bodily harm refers to ‘serious’ harm so cuts requiring stitches, minor fractures and lost teeth whilst grievous bodily harm is seen as meaning broken bones, blood transfusions and permanent disability.

So there we have it, the four types of assaults and what stands between each one. If this has interested you, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are further laws covering assaults on police officers, on emergency workers and the reasonably frequent ‘assault with intent to resist arrest’ which villains sometimes fall foul of when they lash out at us.

Whilst it isn’t uncommon for assaults to be reported, thankfully the most serious types of assault are relatively rare.

Being assaulted isn’t a nice thing to happen to anyone but when it does happen the law has provided us with a decent toolbox to ensure that we can bring offenders to justice.

As further proof that the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 is one of the best, it also includes offences of ‘Impeding a person endeavouring to save himself from shipwreck’, ‘Assaults with intent to obstruct the sale of grain, or its free passage’ and ‘Not providing apprentices or servants with food etc. whereby life is endangered’.

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1 Response to “Rubin could take a man out with just one punch, but he never did like to talk about it all that much…”



  1. 1 As ugly as I seem… | PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 30/04/2013 at 18:38

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