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Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm / Malicious Wounding
Under S20 of The Offences Against The Person Act 1861 is the offence of inflicting
grievous bodily harm or maliciously wounding.
(a) The actus reus a Section 20 offence
The actus reus of this offence can be either grievous bodily harm or wounding.
(i) Grievous Bodily Harm
The actus reus of grievous bodily harm has been reexamined by the courts in recent
years. In DPP v Smith (1961) grievous bodily harm was described as "really serious
harm". The normal examples are fractured bones, disablement, and the rupturing of internal
This offence does not require any direct contact between the defendant and his victim.
R v Martin (1881)
The defendant placed a bar across the entrance to a theatre and then caused panic by
shouting "Fire!". Many people inside the theatre were injured, some seriously, in their
stampede to get out. Martin was convicted of gbh for the injuries that his actions caused.
The courts have extended the scope of gbh to cases involving stalking.
R v Burstow (1997) HL
A woman was subjected to a campaign of harassment by her former lover. There was no
direct contact. This led to her suffering severe depression. The HL decided that inflicting
meant causing, and that the degree of harm she suffered was serious.
(ii) Maliciously wounding
The prosecution has to prove that the defendant either inflicted grievous bodily harm or
wounded the victim. The wounding requires there to be a break in the surface of the skin.
A graze is therefore insufficient, as is the causing of internal bleeding.

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C (a minor) v Eisenhower (1983)
The defendant hit the victim in the eye with a pellet from an air rifle, rupturing a blood vessel
and causing internal bleeding, but not breaking the skin. The offence of wounding had not
therefore been committed.
(b) The mens rea of a Section 20 offence
The mens rea for the offence is defined in the word "maliciously". In Cunningham it was
held that the word maliciously means either intentionally or recklessly.…read more


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