What Exactly is Grievous Bodily Harm and When Does Assault Turn Into This Charge?

What Exactly is Grievous Bodily Harm and When Does Assault Turn Into This Charge?

Assault is defined in the Queensland Criminal Code as any kind of force applied to a person, either directly or indirectly. Assault might be a punch, a tap, a kick, or a slap. Or you might create contact with someone directly or indirectly by throwing something at them. All assaults must be without that person’s consent.

A threat or gesture to apply force to someone, in the situation where you do have or seem like you have the ability to carry out your threat, is also assault. Beyond this definition, there are various forms of assault and certain conditions or situations that make an assault more serious.

We are going to look into what assault is, what forms it can take, what the maximum penalties are, and then explore grievous bodily harm (GBH).

At Hounsell Cunningham, we are here to advise and guide you if you are charged with assault or GBH. We are an experienced criminal law firm with the skills to help you with your criminal matter. Call us now on(07) 3188 5626 to get in touch. If you need us after hours, you can reach Nathan on 0406 661 449 or Mitchell on 0419 975 118. 


Types of Assault

Common assault: An example of common assault might be that you are out at a party when someone starts a fight with you. They are not underage and are not any particular type or class of vulnerable person. You decide to hit them, but you only deal them a glancing blow. They are not injured. By striking them, you are guilty of common assault. Common assault might occur where you have threatened to punch someone as well.

  • Common assault is classed as a misdemeanour, which means it is heard summarily in the Magistrates Court.
  • Maximum penalty: three years imprisonment


Assault occasioning bodily harm: Bodily harm is defined as any bodily injury that interferes with health or comfort. If you assault someone and they endure an injury, then this is a criminal offence that carries serious consequences.

  • This is dealt with in either the Magistrates Court or the District Court.
  • Maximum penalty: seven years imprisonment.
  • Note that this offence may carry a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment if you were armed, or pretended to be, or if you were with other people at the time the assault was committed.


Serious assault: This is a very serious charge, and in Queensland, you may be found to have committed serious assault if you were assaulting someone with the intent to commit another crime, if you resist arrest and/or assault a police officer, assault someone performing a legal duty, assault someone who is over 60 years of age, or assault a disabled person who has a remedial device (such a stick, frame or artificial limb) or who has an assistance animal.

  • This offence is dealt with in the Magistrates Court or the District Court
  • Maximum penalty: seven years imprisonment
  • This maximum penalty may be doubled to fourteen years if you bite or spit at a police officer, or if you apply bodily fluids or faeces in any way to an officer.


Sexual assault: This is a type of assault that involves performing an unwanted sexual act or indecent act on another person, such as exposing your genitalia, but can also involve forcing someone to perform an act, or to witness an act. Sexual assault is further aggravated with oral contact, and by the presence of a weapon during the assault.

  • This offence is dealt with in the District Court
  • Maximum penalty: ten years imprisonment, or fourteen years, maximum penalty life imprisonment with the presence of a weapon, or penetration with a thing that is not a penis. Penetration with a penis or any part of the body is rape, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment
  • If you assault someone with the intent to commit rape, this is another form of criminal act that carries a maximum sentence of fourteen years.


Grievous Bodily Harm: This offence involves someone doing grievous bodily harm (GBH) to another person. GBH is defined in the Queensland Criminal Code as “the loss of a distinct part or an organ of the body; or serious disfigurement; or 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.”

What this means is that if you commit an injury that is likely to endanger life, such as a brain injury , or an injury that causes permanent injury such as a broken jaw, then this can be charged as GBH.

  • It does not matter if the person gets medical treatment and makes a full recovery.
  • It is not a defence to a charge of GBH to say that the person’s life was no longer in danger after getting medical treatment.

When looking at what is an assault versus what is GBH, the key difference is the extent of the injury. While assault occasioning bodily harm only requires an injury, GBH requires there to be an injury of a serious nature.


What Will the Prosecution Need to Show to Prove your Offence of GBH?

When you are charged with an offence of GBH, Queensland Police (the prosecution) need to prove a number of factors beyond reasonable doubt. They must show:

  • that the person assaulted suffered the type of injury defined in the Queensland Criminal Code under GBH;
  • that the GBH was caused by the person accused of the crime; and
  • that the GBH was done unlawfully.

It is not necessary for the prosecution to show that you intended to do GBH. The court only needs to be satisfied that the accused person caused the GBH. This is often a contentious issue in trials where someone has pushed someone, and they have hit their head on the pavement. The Jury involved in a GBH trial would need to be sure that the push caused the head injury.

  • Your charge of GBH will be dealt with on indictment in the District Court and carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years imprisonment.
  • You are likely to face a sentence of imprisonment for a GBH offence, although a court may award a suspended term of imprisonment.


How Hounsell Cunningham can help you

As experienced criminal lawyers, we know what elements we can present to assist you in securing the most favourable outcome given your circumstances. We will build a case for you, taking into consideration the nature of the harm inflicted on the victim, the nature of the act (for example, how violent was the assault), and your circumstances. For example, was your act of GBH provoked? Are there any mitigating circumstances in your background that may add to the reasons for you committing GBH?

  • We will discuss your case and identify any defences.
  • We will ensure that your case is mitigated so that you receive the best possible sentence (should you plead guilty as there are no defences available to you).
  • We will represent you in court and ensure you have access to our counsel throughout your matter.

We are committed to providing you with professional and high-quality advice at a time when you need it the most. GBH is a serious charge, as is the charge of assault with any aggravating factors. It is vital that you seek advice from a criminal lawyer if you are charged with a violent offence, because it could be the difference between a period of imprisonment and a suspended sentence.

Call us now on (07) 3188 5626 for advice and representation in your criminal matter. If you need us after hours, you can reach Nathan on 0406 661 449 or Mitchell on 0419 975 118.