The legal definition of assault is inflicting intentional or reckless harm towards another person. The term harm covers physical and psychological harm.
There are various degrees of assault. The most serious is Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) and the least serious is battery. In between are common assault and Actual Bodily Harm (ABH).
An assault is likely to be classed as GBH if there are serious injuries and/or if a weapon was used to inflict harm. Parts of the body can be classed as a weapon e.g. headbutting someone or kicking/stomping when wearing shoes. If convicted, sentences for GBH can range from three to 16 years.
ABH is where injuries are sustained but not serious ones. The seriousness of injuries is assessed by the police and the prosecuting lawyer and then determined by the court. If convicted of ABH, the court can hand down a community order or, in serious cases, order up to three years’ imprisonment.
Common assault and battery involve the illegal touching of someone i.e. without their consent. The victim is not required to have suffered an injury. By law, the contact must be more than just temporary and insignificant. If convicted, there is a maximum sentence of six months and a minimum sentence of a fine (usually around 50% of the offender’s weekly wages).
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