Common assault

An assault is defined as any application of force to another person either directly or indirectly. 

This includes pushing someone, punching them, slapping them or hitting them with anything, from a feather pillow to an iron bar.

If the person who is assaulted doesn’t suffer any injury, the charge is generally common assault—the lowest level of assault offence.

The maximum penalty for this offence is three years of imprisonment, but penalties vary depending on the behaviour.

Approximately 60 per cent of people charged with common assault are sentenced to either a good behaviour bond or a fine.

Assault occasioning bodily harm

Bodily harm is defined as any injury that interferes with health or comfort. 

It is often described as being a ‘breaking of the true skin’, which means an injury that involves bruising or bleeding. 

The maximum penalty for assault occasioning bodily harm is seven years of imprisonment. 

If the assault involved a weapon of any kind or was committed by two or more people acting together, the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment.

Statistics show charges of assault occasioning bodily harm are about as common as common assaults, but the penalties are much higher. 

More than a third of offenders are sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

Grievous bodily harm

Grievous bodily harm is defined as:

  • the loss of a distinct part or organ of the body
  • serious disfigurement
  • any bodily injury of such a nature that, if left untreated, would endanger or be likely to endanger life, or cause or be likely to cause permanent injury to health, whether or not treatment is or could have been available.

Medical evidence is used to determine whether an injury amounts to grievous bodily harm. Grievous bodily harm is a serious offence, so the maximum penalty is 14 years of imprisonment.

Grievous bodily harm is far less common than the lesser forms of assault. However, more than 80 per cent of offenders are sentenced to terms of actual imprisonment.

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