Assault Offences

Closed 15 Sep 2020

Opened 16 Apr 2020


Why Assault offences?

The Sentencing Council’s Assault Definitive Guideline was the first guideline developed by the Sentencing Council and came into force in 2011. It includes guidelines for sentencing offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861: section 18 GBH (causing grievous bodily harm/wounding with intent); section 20 GBH (inflicting grievous bodily harm/unlawful wounding); section 47 ABH (Assault occasioning actual bodily harm) and section 38 Assault with intent to resist arrest.

The offences of assault on a police constable in the execution of his duty contrary to Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 and common assault contrary to Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 are also included.

The Council carried out an evaluation of the guideline and published its assessment in 2015. The evaluation assessed the impact of the guideline on sentencing outcomes and whether there were any implementation issues;

It was identified that overall the guideline slightly decreased sentencing severity, which was attributed to the downward impact of the guideline on sentences for common assault, which is the highest volume offence covered by the assault guideline. However, despite this overall decrease in sentence severity, two offences in particular – GBH with intent (s18) and ABH (s47) – were found to have impacts different from those expected on the introduction of the guideline.  For GBH with intent, the guideline resulted in sentences increasing in excess of that estimated. For ABH, despite the estimate that the guideline would result in less severe sentences the evaluation stated that sentences increased. For common assault (s39) offences, sentencing severity decreased and was broadly consistent to that anticipated. Likewise, for assault on a police officer (s89) offences, there was a shift towards less severe disposal types, as anticipated.  For GBH (s20) offences, there were minor increases in sentencing severity, but these had been anticipated and were within the bounds of historic fluctuations in sentencing levels.

As a result of the evaluation findings, the Council decided to review the current Assault Definitive Guideline and identify the causes of the unintended impacts of the guidelines and any action which may be required to address these. This work was due to commence shortly after the evaluation was published, but around that time the Law Commission published recommendations for legislative reforms to offences against the person. The Council did not wish to revise the guideline if there were to be a risk that it would become quickly outdated, so awaited the outcome of the proposals. When it became apparent that the reforms would not be implemented in the foreseeable future, work commenced to revise the guideline. The Council also decided to revise the Attempted Murder Definitive Guideline developed by its predecessor body the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and have included this in the assault offences guideline as it represents the most serious non-fatal assault offence. New legislation has also recently been introduced to increase sentences for Assaults on Emergency Workers, so the Council has reflected this legislation in the revised guideline.

Assault offences are high volume offences both in magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court. In 2018 there were around 55,300 adult offenders sentenced for offences covered by the existing guideline, 83 per cent were sentenced in the magistrates’ courts, and 17 per cent in the Crown Court.[1]

The revised assault offences guidelines will provide sentencers across the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts with guidance for sentencing all of the offences listed below, which will assist in achieving the Council’s objective of consistent sentencing, and provide transparency for the public regarding the penalties for these offences.


Which offences are covered by the revised guidelines?

  • Common assault – section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988; Racially/religiously aggravated Common assault - section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998


  • Common assault of an emergency worker - section 1 Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018


  • Assault with intent to resist arrest – section 38 Offences Against the Person Act 1861


  • Assault occasioning actual bodily harm - section 47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861; Racially/religiously aggravated ABH - section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998


  • Inflicting grievous bodily harm/Unlawful wounding - section 20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861; Racially/religiously aggravated GBH/Unlawful wounding - section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998


  • Causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm/Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm - section 18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861


  • Attempted murder - s1(1) Criminal Attempts Act 1981


What is the Council consulting about?

The Council has produced this consultation paper in order to seek views from as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of assault offences.

However, it is important to clarify that the Council is consulting on sentencing guidelines for these offences and not the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise.

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guidelines more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • the approach taken to structuring the draft guidelines;
  • the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed;
  • differences between the current guidelines and these new, revised guidelines; and
  • anything else you think should be considered.


What else is happening as part of the consultation process?

This is a five month public consultation. The Council has extended the standard consultation period in recognition that many organisations and individuals are working in difficult circumstances due to the current Coronavirus health crisis and may therefore require more time to coordinate and draft a response. During the consultation period, the Council will host a number of consultation meetings to seek views from groups with an interest in this area. Once the consultation exercise is over and the results considered, a final guideline will be published and used by all courts.

Alongside this consultation paper, the Council has produced an online questionnaire.  The Council has also produced a resource assessment for the guideline, along with a statistical bulletin and data tables showing current sentencing practice for these offences. The online questionnaire, resource assessment, statistical bulletin and data tables can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website:

In the following sections each of the proposed guidelines is outlined in detail and you will be asked to give your views. You can give your views by answering questions on just the areas or guidelines which you are interested in or all of the questions below, either by email to or by using the online questionnaire.


[1] The statistics in this document are sourced from the Court Proceedings Database, Ministry of Justice.


  • Legal professionals
  • Judiciary
  • Police
  • Prosecutors
  • Offenders
  • Victims


  • Criminal justice