Criminal Law- Offences Against the Person

Common assault is the basic offence against the person which is set out in the Criminal Justice act 1988. However, there are more offences against the person set out in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

In an exam, as the prosecution would work in an actual case, they would attempt to apply the most serious offence against the persons first, and work their way down until they can make one of the offences stick. However, I will be explaining each offence in order of least serious to most serious as it will make more sense for revision purposes and to understand.

Common assault set out in the CJA and is divided into two offences, physical assault or battery, and Assault:

Assault- The apprehension of immediate unlawful personal force

Battery- The infliction of unlawful personal force

These common law simple assaults. The AR for Assault being the apprehension of immediate unlawful personal force, and the MR being: intentionally or recklessly causing this apprehension of force.

The AR for battery being the infliction of unlawful force on another and the MR being for the D to intentionally or recklessly inflict unlawful force on another.


The following offences are set out in various sections of the Offences against the Person act 1861.


Assault occasioning actual bodily harm is set out in section 47 of the OAPA and it is a triable either way offence. This means that it can either be tried in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court depending on how serious the offence was and whether the magistrates feel as though they have the power to be able to trial the defendant for the offence in relation to sentencing.

The Actus Reus for ABH is when a simple assault of battery occurs and it interferes with the ‘health and comfort’ of the victim. The case authority for this is R v Miller.

The Mens Rea for ABH is the intension infliction the ABH or recklessly inflicting ABH on another. The case of R v Savage is case authority to show that the victim did not have to intend to cause ABH, it can be any sort of harm.  Offences of psychiatric harm can also be included in regards to ABH as seen in DPP v Woods.


Wounding/ Grievous bodily harm is set out in section 20 of the OAPA, and once again is a triable either way offence, and has a maximum of 5 years in prison for this offence. There are two different offences, but the Mens Rea for both crimes are the same.


The Actus Reus for Wounding is defined as the breaking in the surface and the layers of the skin. The case authority for this of Moriarty v Brooks. An interesting exception to this is that, taken from the case of R v Eisenhower, a bloody nose is not classed as wounding as it is a rupture of blood vessels and not a break in the layers of skin.


The Actus Reus of GBH is the is a wide term and is taken from the case of DPP v Smith. For someone to be convicted of GBH they must have caused ‘really serious harm’. This is a wide and ambiguous term, and it is a question for the jury to decide on.


The Mens Rea for both offences are the same. The MR is the Intentional infliction of some harm that amounts to an ABH or be reckless as to causing ABH. The case of R v Savage and Parmenter states that D did not have to foresee all/the extent of the injuries that they caused. Physiological harm can be tried under this section as seen in the case of R v Burstow.



The offences that is found under section 18 of the OAPA is Wounding/GBH with intent, which is an indictable offence which can only be tried in the Crown Court. It also carried a max sentence of life imprisonment. There are 2 possible ways the MR can be satisfied for this crime.


The Actus Reus is the same as section 20.


The Mens Rea however chances. The MR for Wounding or GBH with intent is for the D to have intended to cause ‘really serious harm’ on the victim. This means that it is a specific intent crime and therefore can potentially be mitigated if the D is intoxicated at the time and the intoxication deprives the D of the MR of the crime.


Section 18 in the alternate is a slightly different and niche way the MR can still be satisfied. If the D Intentionally attempts to resist arrest and intends or is reckless as to causing some harm, then the MR can also be satisfied.



Racially or religiously aggravated assaults can be attached onto section 47 and section 20 offences. For someone to be guilty of a racial or religiously aggravated assault, they must, at the time or immediately before the attack, display hostility towards an actual or presumed membership of a racial or religious group. Or if the attack was wholly based from their actual or presumed racial or religious membership. In DPP v Woods– a man was convicted of section 47 for calling a doorman at a nightclub a ‘black barstard’ when engaging in a physical confrontation with him. In the case of R v Rogers– a man called a group of Spanish women ‘bloody foreigners’ and was convicted.


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