What is grievous bodily harm?

Grievous bodily harm refers to any serious or permanent injury which will cause the victim ongoing problems. Examples of grievous bodily harm include broken bones or internal organ damage. Under section 4 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) grievous bodily harm can include:

  • The destruction of the foetus of a pregnant woman.
  • Any permanent or serious disfiguring.
  • Any grievous bodily disease (like AIDS).

 

There are three main offences involving the infliction of grievous bodily harm, all of which can be considered a form of assault:

  • Grievous bodily harm with intent.
  • Recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.
  • Causing grievous bodily harm by unlawful or negligent act.

The main difference between the three is the mental state of the accused. Regardless of whether you intended to cause harm, or whether your actions simply fell short of a reasonable standard; if you caused another person serious or permanent injury, you could be charged with an offence.

 

Causing grievous bodily harm with intent

Causing grievous bodily harm with intent is a crime under section 33(1) of the Crimes Act. This offence is charged when the accused:

  • Causes grievous bodily harm to any person, and
  • They intended to cause grievous bodily harm.

 

Recklessly causing grievous bodily harm

Recklessly causing grievous bodily harm is a crime under section 35(2) of the Crimes Act. This offence is charged when the accused:

  • Causes grievous bodily harm to any person, and
  • Was reckless as to causing grievous bodily harm to that or any other person.

 

Causing grievous bodily harm by unlawful or negligent act

Negligently causing grievous bodily harm is a crime under section 54 of the Crimes Act. This offence is charged when the accused:

  • By any unlawful or negligent act, or omission,
  • Causes grievous bodily harm to any person.

Negligently causing grievous bodily harm means that even if you didn’t intend to cause anyone harm or injury, you could be charged if your actions fell short of a reasonable standard of care.

Alternatively, causing grievous bodily harm by an unlawful act requires an action that is both contrary to law, and that is inherently dangerous.

 

Penalties

The penalties for causing grievous bodily harm are usually more serious than for common assault, but vary depending on the offence. In determining the sentence, the court will consider the degree of violence and the extent of the harm inflicted.

For a charge of grievous bodily harm with intent, an accused will often receive a prison sentence, while causing grievous bodily harm by unlawful or negligent act can often result in penalties including a Conditional Release Order without conviction or an Intensive Correction Order. Learn more about the different penalties available.

 

Maximum sentence for grievous bodily harm

The maximum penalties for some common grievous bodily harm offences are set out below:

OffenceMaximum prison sentence
Wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent25 years
Reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm10 years
Reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm in company14 years
Causing dog to inflict grievous bodily harm 10 years
Causing grievous bodily harm by unlawful or negligent act2 years

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where will the matter be heard?

Recklessly causing grievous bodily harm and causing grievous bodily harm by unlawful or negligent behaviour will ordinarily be dealt with in the Local Court. In rare circumstances, they may be heard in the District Court, but this would usually only occur if a defendant is also charged with further more serious offences that must be dealt with by the District Court.

Grievous bodily harm with intent is an indictable offence and will be heard in the District Court.

What is the difference between wounding and grievous bodily harm?

The type of harm inflicted is the main difference between grievous bodily harm and wounding. Wounding is a specific kind of harm; unlike grievous bodily harm, it requires the breaking of the inner and outer layer of the skin. If you deliberately cut someone with a knife, you could be charged with “wounding with intent”.

What is the difference between grievous bodily harm and aggravated assault?

There is no offence of aggravated assault in NSW; rather the term refers to an assault committed in “aggravating circumstances” such as when a weapon has been used. This may or may not lead to grievous bodily harm, whereby the victim suffers a serious or permanent physical disfigurement.

What are possible defences to grievous bodily harm?

Self-defence could be a possible defence to a charge relating to grievous bodily harm. To establish self-defence, it must be shown that:

  • The accused believed their conduct was necessary in order to defend themselves, and
  • The accused’s actions were a reasonable response in the circumstances as they perceived them.

The conduct cannot be unreasonable or excessive. For instance, if someone pokes you in the chest, you have no right to belt them over the head with a baseball bat.

Other possible defences include arguing that the injuries did not amount to serious or permanent injury and therefore did not constitute grievous bodily harm, or claiming necessity and duress. Learn more about available defences.

How can we help?

We are experienced in successfully defending grievous bodily harm related charges.

Book a free consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.