Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) | Assault Offences | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

In New South Wales, an assault that results in actual bodily harm is a more serious offence than a simple assault. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm in governed by section 59 of the Crimes Act 1900 and is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

What is actual bodily harm?

Case law defines actual bodily harm as an injury that is “more than merely transient or fleeting.” Commonly, scratches and/or bruises to another person can be defined as actual bodily harm. On occasion, it can also cover serious psychological injuries.

Actual bodily harm is less serious than grievous bodily harm, which involves a really serious injury such as permanent disfigurement, a broken bone or the infection with a serious disease.


An assault occasioning bodily harm charge can be dealt with in the Local Court as a summary offence or in the District Court as an indictable offence.

Penalty for assault occasioning actual bodily harm

A person found guilty of an assault occasioning bodily harm is liable to imprisonment for up to five years. However, if the assault was committed in company with another person the accused is liable to up to seven years imprisonment.

If the offence is dealt with summarily, the maximum penalty that can be imposed is two years imprisonment.

Defences to assault occasioning actual bodily harm

A person charged with as assault occasioning actual bodily harm may rely on a number of legal defence, including the following.


A person is not guilty of an offence if there actions were necessary to defend themself or another person from a physical attack. Whether a person’s actions were necessary in self-defence is assessed based on all the circumstances including the nature of the threat that was faced and the characteristics of the accused, including their age, sex and size.


A person is not guilty of an offence if they were essentially ‘forced’ to commit the offence by another person making a serious threat to them or to another person if they do not comply. This defence is known as duress.

Causing dog to inflict actual bodily harm

A separate offence involving actual bodily harm also exists under the Crimes Act. This offence is causing a dog to inflict actual bodily harm and is contained in section 35A. This offence occurs when a person has control of a dog and causes the dog to inflict actual bodily harm on a person and is reckless to the injury that may be caused by the act. This offence is also punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

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

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