Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm

The maximum penalty for the offence of Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm is five years’ imprisonment. However, if the offence is charged as being “aggravated” (that is, committed against a pregnant woman), it carries seven years’ imprisonment.

The Offence of Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm

The offence of Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm is contained in Section 23(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) which states:

“A person who intentionally or recklessly inflicts actual bodily harm on another person is guilty of an offence punishable, on conviction, by imprisonment for 5 years.”

However, for an “aggravated” version of the offence (Section 23(2) of the Crimes Act), the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years.

Section 48A of the Crimes Act provides that the offence is an aggravated offence if it was committed against a pregnant woman; and the commission of the offence caused the loss of, or serious harm to, the pregnancy; or the death of, or serious harm to, a child born alive as a result of the pregnancy.

However, the offence is not an aggravated offence if the defendant proves, on the balance of probabilities that the defendant did not know, and could not reasonably have known, that the woman was pregnant.

If the prosecution intends to prove that the offence is an aggravated offence, the relevant factors of aggravation must be stated in the charge.

What Actions Might Constitute Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm?

A visible injury needs to be shown to prove actual bodily harm. For example, a bruise or a cut would be sufficient to meet those criteria.

In addition, the Dictionary in the Crimes Act states that actual bodily harm includes, in respect to a pregnant woman, harm to the pregnancy, unless that is inflicted in a medical procedure.

The Police must show that actual bodily harm was inflicted on the other person. This means that a visible injury needs to be present to show that bodily harm occurred. For example, a bruise or a scratch would be sufficient in meeting those criteria.

There is also case law that defines the term “actual bodily harm”. This would include any injury that would interfere with another individual’s health or comfort. The case of R v Donovan [1934] 2 KB 498 at 509 states that the injury does not need to be permanent, but “must be more than merely transient or trifling.”

There are two ways that this offence can be committed, either intentionally or recklessly.

To commit this offence “recklessly” means that the Court has found that you turned your mind to the fact that an injury could be caused by your action, but you still went ahead with the action. For example, you were aware that if you hit a person with a piece of wood an injury was likely, and that injury did occur, and it amounted to actual bodily harm. Recklessness can be evidenced by what you say or what and how you do something.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict you of inflicting actual bodily harm, the police must prove each element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That the accused either intentionally or recklessly;
  • Caused an injury or injuries to a person or persons;
  • The injury amounted to actual bodily harm.

Possible Defences to A Charge Of Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm

A person may defend a charge of inflicting actual bodily harm by arguing that:

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

Because Inflicting Actual Bodily Harm carries a maximum penalty of a prison sentence of not longer than five years, the Prosecution has the ability to unilaterally elect to keep it in the Magistrates Court, where the maximum penalty that can be imposed is two years.

If the Prosecution does not make such an election, the Defence can still consent to the matter being dealt with in the Magistrates Court, rather than having to be committed to the Supreme Court where the matter would be before a judge and jury, if contested.

Your lawyer can negotiate with the Prosecution about the correct charges that should be brought, and the correct court for them to be heard in.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.


If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.


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