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ABH vs GBH: Which offence is more serious?

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ABH and GBH are two very serious offences. However, there are important distinctions between the two which are reflected in the severity of the potential sentences that can be handed out to anyone convicted.

Given the similarities between the two offences, people often wonder which is more serious. Here, we discuss the difference between ABH and GBH, and seek to give you a better understanding of the offences.

While we hope this information is useful, please note, it should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal support with allegations of ABH or GBH, then please get in touch and our team can advise you.

What's the difference between ABH and GBH?


ABH stands for Actual Bodily Harm. It is the offence which describes an assault which has caused ‘some hurt or injury’ to an alleged victim. Where there is an allegation of physical injury, the injury in question does not need to be serious or permanent. However, the injury must have caused a degree of pain or discomfort. In cases involving psychological injury, the injury must be more serious than fear or anxiety.

Importantly, a person does not have to intend to cause harm or injury to commit ABH. All that is required for ABH is an intention to cause another to apprehend immediate unlawful force, or a recklessness as to whether this would occur.


GBH stands for Grievous Bodily Harm. This offence describes an assault which has caused serious harm. In terms of physical injuries that may be considered GBH, this includes permanent disability, disfigurement, broken bones, transmission of an infection, and substantial loss of blood (e.g. where a transfusion is needed). However serious psychiatric injury may also constitute GBH.

There are two offences which fall under the bracket of GBH, which are separated by whether there was any intention to cause GBH:

  1. Unlawful wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm – section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
  2. Causing grievous bodily harm or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm – section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The section 18 GBH offence is more serious than the section 20 GBH offence.

What is the sentence for ABH?

The maximum sentence for ABH is 5 years’ imprisonment. However, where the ABH is racially or religiously aggravated, the sentence can be up to 7 years’ custody.

What is the sentence for GBH?

The sentence for GBH varies depending on which form of GBH you are convicted of.

The maximum sentence for unlawful wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm (section 20) is 5 years’ imprisonment. Like with ABH, this rises to 7 years’ custody if the GBH is racially or religiously aggravated.

The maximum sentence for GBH or wounding with intent (section 18) is life imprisonment.

What's worse, ABH or GBH?

Given that GBH involves more severe injuries and can carry harsher penalties, GBH is typically understood to be the ‘worse’ of the two offences. However, it is important to stress that both offences are extremely serious and can result in lengthy terms of imprisonment for anyone who is convicted.

The likely outcome of an ABH or GBH charge will heavily depend on the circumstances of the case and, importantly, the strength of the criminal defence that has been built.

What should you do if you are accused of ABH or GBH?

If you are accused of either ABH or GBH, it is absolutely essential that you instruct a specialist criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. This can often be crucial in whether charges are dropped or minimised where conviction is unavoidable.

At J D Spicer Zeb, our criminal defence solicitors have over 45 years of experience in handling the full spectrum of criminal law matters, including cases of ABH and GBH. Our high level of expertise is reflected through our Law Society accreditation in Criminal Litigation.

Our team understand exactly what is required to build the strongest possible defence against allegations of both ABH and GBH, including the types of evidence that are required. This can include forensic and digital evidence and witness testimony. We will be able to clearly identify any flaws in the case against you and ensure that any evidence needed to support your defence is clearly highlighted.

We have a strong track record of success and have established strong relationships with a number of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

If you are facing an ABH or GBH charge, we are here to provide you with the support you need.

Related matters

We also provide support and guidance on various matters that are related to both ABH and GBH, including:

Related cases

Fees and funding

Our criminal defence solicitors are always transparent when it comes to fees and funding.

If you need to attend court for your case, Legal Aid may be available in certain cases. This will be based on an assessment of your means and, if your case is in the Magistrates’ Court, whether the grant of public funding is justified.

For clients who do not qualify for Legal Aid, the alternative will be to fund your case on a private basis.

To find out more about the way we handle fees (both Legal Aid and private fees) for ABH and GBH cases, please use the links provided below:

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

If you are due to attend the police station, require any urgent specialist advice, or immediate representation for an ABH or GBH charge, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

24/7 legal representation for ABH and GBH

Please get in touch for a free consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice for ABH and GBH.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number at 07836 577 556.

Bespoke Private Fee Service

If you believe your case is likely to have serious consequences for you now, or in the future and you have the means to pay for this service

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Do we offer free consultations? 

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How can we help?

Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

How quickly do you respond?

We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

Can you get cases dropped?

Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

Have you won any awards?


"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

Do you offer free consultations?

Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
  • Public and private funding benefits.
  • Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
  • Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
  • The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
  • Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
  • Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
  • Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
  • Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.

Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
  • Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
  • In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
  • Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
  • The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
  • The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
  • In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
  • If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
  • If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance. 
  • If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
  • If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
  • To businesses.
  • Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
  • Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
  • Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
  • Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
  • If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
  • If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.