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Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) under S.47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
The offence of actual bodily harm is set out in S.47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Which provides that it is an offence to commit an assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Whilst the statute only refers to assault, the offence may also be committed by a battery. In fact it is far more common for offences under s.47 to be committed by battery rather than by an assault. Actual bodily harm is a triable-either-way offence. The maximum sentence for ABH is 5 years imprisonment.
Actus reus of ABH
  • Assault or battery
  • which causes
  • Actual bodily harm

Assault or battery
To constitute an offence under s.47 all the elements of an assault or battery must be present. However, some factors which may make an assault or battery lawful can not be applied to make an offence under s.47 lawful in particular:
  • Reasonable punishment of a child S.58 Children Act 2004

  • Consent
    It used to be lawful for parents or others in loco parentis to use reasonable force in order to chastise children:
    R v Hopley (1860) 2 F&F 202   Case summary 
    However, English law regarding lawful chastisement was held to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights: 
    A v UK (1999) 27 EHRR 611   Case summary


  • Lawful chastisement was abolished by s.58 of the Children Act 2004 and replaced with reasonable punishment of a child. This can not be used as a defence in relation to ABH, GBH or wounding but may be allowed in assault and battery only.

    The assault or battery must cause actual bodily harm
    This requires a consideration of both factual and legal causation.
    Actual Bodily Harm
    The meaning of actual bodily harm was considered in:  
    R v Miller [1954] 2 All ER 529   Case summary 
    Lynsky J:
    1. "Actual bodily harm includes any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim"

    R v Chan Fook [1994] 1 WLR 689    Case summary
    LJ Hobhouse:
    "The word "actual" indicates that the injury (although there is no need for it to be permanent) should not be so trivial as to be wholly insignificant."
    Bodily harm
    Bodily harm can include psychiatric injury see:
    R v Chan Fook [1994] 1 WLR 689    Case summary
    R v Ireland [1997] 3 WLR 534        Case summary


    Bodily harm also includes the cutting off of hair:
    DPP v Smith [2006] EWHC 94   Case summary

    Mens rea of Actual Bodily Harm  

    The mens rea of ABH is intention or reckless (subjective) as to the assault or battery. There is no requirement that the defendant intended or was reckless as to the injury inflicted:
    R v Roberts [1971] EWCA Crim 4   Case summary 

    R v Venna [1975] 3 WLR 737        Case summary

    R v Spratt [1990] 1 WLR 1073   Case summary

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    The law of actual bodily harm