Section 39 Assault (Common assault/battery/assault by beating)

A section 39 assault the catch all term for common assault, battery and assault by beating. They are the least serious form of assault and are when there is an assault but no injury. Strictly speaking, a common assault is when there has been no actual contact and the victim has been ‘caused to apprehend immediate unlawful violence.’ A battery or assault by beating is when there has been contact but no injuries caused.

Section 47 Assault – Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)

The offence is committed when a person assaults another, thereby causing Actual Bodily Harm (ABH). This can mean a bruise or a minor graze. 

Section 47 Assault is an either way offence which means it can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, most often we see cases being dealt with at the Crown Court. 

In the Crown Court the offence carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. There are sentencing guidelines for all assault offences and our solicitors will be able to advise you where your case falls within those guidelines.

Section 20 Assault – Unlawful Wounding/Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)

Section 20 Assault involves grievous (or really serious) bodily harm or a wound. 

This offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, either wounds another person; or inflicts grievous bodily harm upon another person.

A wound means a break of the skin but a charge under this section reflects a serious wound such as injury resulting in permanent disability, loss of sensory function, broken bones, injuries which cause substantial loss of blood, or serious psychiatric injury.

It is an either way offence which means it can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, most often we see cases being dealt with at the Crown Court. It carries a maximum penalty on indictment of five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. 

Section 18 Assault – Wounding/Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) with intent

The most serious offence of violence is Section 18 grievous bodily harm and can also be known as wounding with intent. This offence is indictable only, which means it can only be dealt with in the Crown Court. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

The difference between an offence of section 18 assault and section 20 is one of intent. Factors that may suggest the intent necessary for section 18 assault include whether the assault was planned, a weapon had been deliberately chose of prior threats had been made. 

It is very important that you seek the advice of a specialist solicitor should you find yourself facing a charge of grievous bodily harm. The stakes are high and your defence team will be proactive in preparing your case to provide you with the best chance of success whether that be taking your case to trial if you have a defence available to you or obtaining the best possible outcome should you wish to plead guilty to an offence.  


The most common defence to a charge of assault is self defence. Our solicitors will be able to advise you whether a defence of self defence is available to you based on their expert knowledge. It is also important to have a specialist solicitor from the outset who may be able to negotiate with the prosecution about the charges you face and whether a lesser charge could be considered by the prosecution. 

Assault Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Council have sentencing guidelines for offences of violence. These take into account the harm sustained and the culpability of the offender. They also take into account any aggravating circumstances of the offence and personal mitigation of a defendant.

It can be hard to navigate your way through the guidelines and our solicitors will be able to explain the categories to you and where your case may fall should you be convicted of an offence.