Malicious wounding or gbh under s.20

Arises when someone unlawfully and maliciously wounds or inflicts any grievous harm with or without a weapon or instrument.

The law relating to non-fatal offences against the person is to be found in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

We start with malicious wounding or grievous bodily harm under Section 20 OAP 1861.  This offence arises when someone unlawfully and maliciously wounds or inflicts any grievous harm either with or without a weapon or instrument.  The maximum punishment for this offence is the same for actual bodily harm (5 years imprisonment).  This is surprising to many as most people consider this offence to be more serious and at least one reason why the law in this area needs modernising and brought up to date.

There are two aspects to this offence, the malicious wounding or the malicious infliction of grievous bodily harm.  The importance of this distinction is illustrated by the case of JJC (a minor) v Eisenhower 1984.  In this case pellets from the defendant’s air gun caused an eye injury to the victim.  This caused bruising and rupturing of internal blood vessels but there was no breaking of the skin.  The Divisional Court found that wounding had occurred.  Wounding amounted to a ‘break in the continuity of the whole skin’. This does not mean that such an injury needs to be serious.  Many have argued that this interpretation of malicious wounding in this way is inconsistent with the higher level of harm required i.e. ‘grievous bodily harm’ – meaning serious harm (DPP v Smith 1961; Saunders 1985).

Again this raises the issue that the law in this area is unnecessarily complicated and needs to be simplified by modernising and reform.

The actus reus required under Section 20 consists of an unlawful wounding or unlawful infliction of grievous bodily harm.  The word ‘inflict’ has received the attention of the courts.

Unlawful wounding/inflicting grievous bodily harm, contrary to section 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

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