Criminal Law

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) WA

Grievous Bodily Harm is a serious criminal offence that can have a profound effect on your life, including impacting your ability to travel overseas, future employment in certain industries and in some cases, a term of imprisonment.

Here we explain the charge of Grievous Bodily Harm in Western Australia and information relevant to this charge, including the maximum penalty, causation, and common defences.

If you have been charged with this type of assault offence, you must seek advice from a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

Call Andrew Williams today on (08) 9278 2575 for advice on your individual circumstances.

Definition of Grievous Bodily Harm

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) is defined in the Criminal Code WA as bodily injury which either:

  • endangers or is likely to endanger life or;
  • causes or is likely to cause permanent injury to health.

Grievous Bodily Harm covers a broad range of injuries which may include a broken jaw up to a serious head injury.

The references above to an injury that either “endangers or is likely to endanger life” or “is likely to cause permanent injury to health” apply whether or not the victim ultimately receives medical treatment and completely recovers with no further complications.

It is not a defence to the charge to say that, following medical treatment, the injury suffered by the victim no longer endangered their life or caused permanent injury to their health.

What Is The Prosecution Required To Prove For An Offence Of Grievous Bodily Harm?

In order for an accused to be convicted of the offence of GBH, the prosecution must prove the following:

  • That the complainant suffered Grievous Bodily Harm;
  • That the Grievous Bodily Harm was caused by the accused;
  • That the act which caused the Grievous Bodily Harm was done unlawfully. That is, the act was not justified, authorised, or excused by law.

Grievous Bodily Harm And Causation

The prosecution does not need to prove that the accused intended to cause GBH to the victim. A court only needs to be satisfied that the accused unlawfully caused the GBH suffered by the victim. The causation issue is sometimes a matter of dispute in a trial involving GBH.

For example, where the accused pushes the victim and the victim then falls and suffers a head injury which constitutes GBH, a jury would need to consider whether the push caused the head injury.

In Which Court Is Grievous Bodily Harm Determined And What Are The Penalties?

The offence of GBH cannot be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Charges of GBH are dealt with only on an indictment in the District Court. The maximum penalty for the offence of GBH is 10 years imprisonment.

The maximum term of imprisonment increases to 14 years if the offence is committed under circumstances of aggravation, or while stealing a motor vehicle (read more about the offence of Dangerous Driving Causing Death or Grievous Bodily Harm).

Generally, sentences of immediate imprisonment are imposed for GBH offences. However, that is not always the case. There are some circumstances that will enable suspended terms of imprisonment to be imposed.

There are, in general, three matters of significance for the court in determining the seriousness of an offence of grievous bodily harm:

  • The nature of the harm which is inflicted. Although any GBH is necessarily serious, it may range from a permanent injury with which the victim is able to cope, to a severe and life-threatening injury which occasions significant permanent disability.
  • The nature of the act which causes harm. This may range from a single act to repeated acts of violence.
  • The background to and circumstances of the offence. This may range from a response to a provocative act of the victim to random and senseless violence.

The factors that the courts look at in deciding whether to impose a term of immediate imprisonment for an offence of GBH include:

  • The perceived seriousness and intrinsic character of the offence;
  • Whether there was any element of persistence;
  • General deterrence;
  • Factors personal to the offender including mitigating circumstances;
  • The need to demonstrate the community's condemnation of offences of the kind in question;
  • The prospect of rehabilitation of the offender in combination with the personal deterrence provided by the threat of activation of a suspended sentence; and
  • Any reasons militating in favour of an exercise of mercy.

Mandatory Sentencing

In Western Australia, criminal offences committed in certain circumstances attract mandatory minimum sentences. If GBH is committed during the course of an aggravated home burglary by an adult offender, for example, then the court must impose a term of at least 75% of the maximum penalty.

Penalties vary if the GBH committed during an aggravated home burglary is caused by a juvenile offender, whereby the court must impose a term of imprisonment or detention of at least 3 years. 

Act Intended to Cause Grievous Bodily Harm

If it is proven that the accused committed an act that intended to cause GBH, or to maim, disfigure or disable a person, or to prevent the lawful arrest of another, the offence then carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment under section 294 of the Criminal Code Act. This includes wounding or causing an explosion.

Possible Defences for Grievous Bodily Harm

There are several defences available to the charge of GBH. These include but are not limited to:

  • Identification
  • The GBH was not caused by the actions of the accused
  • Self-defence or defence of another
  • Accident
  • Extraordinary Emergency

Where one of the above defences is raised, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused's acts were not carried out in circumstances that give rise to the defence.

The defence of provocation is not available to a charge of GBH.

Need Legal Advice For An Assault Charge?

It's essential to consult with a criminal defence lawyer to understand your rights, possible defences, and the legal process involved if you are charged with the offence of GBH in WA. 

Andrew Williams has offices based in Perth and Fremantle. He also represents clients in courts across Australia and the regional areas of WA and has extensive experience in representing individuals charged with Assault.

Contact the Law Offices of Andrew Williams for legal advice and representation in court on (08) 9278 2575.

Assault & Violent Offences

In the state of Western Australia, assault charges encompass a variety of conduct that is violent. This conduct varies greatly and carries different penalties based on the severity of harm, degree of violence involved and individual circumstances. The presence of a relevant legal defence also impacts the penalty imposed which can range from financial penalties to prison sentences. Other types of assault charges include:

  • Common Assault - also referred to as unlawful assault, where a person applies force to another without that person's consent, such as pushing, slapping, striking, kicking and spitting. Physical contact is not always necessary, as threatening harm can also be considered an assault.
  • Assault Occasioning Bodily Harm - this type of offence arises where, as a result of an assault, the accused causes another person physical harm, such a black eye, broken bone or swelling and bruising.
  • Assault of Public Officer - this includes an ambulance officer, Fire and Emergency Services officer, a person working in a hospital, or a person operating or driving a rail vehicle, ferry, taxi or bus, and bodily harm or grievous bodily harm is not required to have taken place. If the offence was committed in prescribed circumstances, where the public officer was a police officer, prison officer or security officer and bodily harm did occur, mandatory sentencing laws will apply with immediate imprisonment.
  • Assault With Intent - this offence occurs when the assault was carried out by a person with the intent of committing or facilitating the commission of a crime, committing grievous bodily harm to any person, or resisting or preventing the lawful arrest or detention of any person.
  • Unlawful Wounding - this offence occurs when a person breaks both layers of the skin of another person, without lawful reason. This includes inflicting a cut, burn or stab wound however it is not necessary to have used a weapon, and the injury does not have to be severe or long-term.
  • Unlawful Indecent Assault - this can encompass a wide range of behaviours and depends on the act itself, the circumstances of the conduct, and/or the relationship between the parties involved. It is sexual, without the consent of the other person.
  • Sexual Assault - this includes sexual penetration without consent, indecent dealings with a child under 16 years of age, using electronic communication to procure a child to engage in sexual activity, distribution and possession of child pornography or child exploitation material, or sexual offences against a child of or over 16 where the accused is in a position of authority.

It's important to speak with an experienced assault lawyer for specific advice tailored to your matter as circumstances vary considerably from case to case.

Contact our lawyers now

At Andrew Williams Criminal Law we're here to help you with the best legal advice.

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