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...

Intentionally Causing Grievous Bodily Harm


In NSW, the charge of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment. A person is charged with this offence if they assault someone with the intent to cause, and do cause, a very serious injury.

The Offence Of Intent To Cause Grievous Bodily Harm

The offence of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) is contained in section 33 of the Crimes Act 1900 which states:

“A person who: (a) wounds any person), or (b) causes grievous bodily harm to any person, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to that or any other person is guilty of an offence.”

The maximum penalty for an offence under this section is imprisonment for 25 years.

What is grievous bodily harm?

The Crimes Act defines GBH as ‘any permanent or serious disfiguring of the person, the destruction of a foetus and any grievous bodily disease’. The law requires the injury to be ‘really serious’, but not necessarily permanent, long lasting or life threatening. Whether an injury amounts to GBH is to be determined by the court on a case by case basis.

The prosecution and defence regularly disagree on whether a particular injury actually amounts to GBH or whether it falls within the scope of the less serious charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. This issue is then determined by the court.

Some examples of injuries that the court has found to constitute GBH include:

  • Brain damage;
  • Jaw and skull fractures;
  • Infecting someone with HIV;
  • Severe lacerations that require a large number of stitches, nerve reconstruction and/or surgery;
  • Causing a mother to lose her foetus; and
  • Facial fractures and laceration of the right ear requiring steel plates and screws, causing ongoing headaches and continuing treatment.

Some examples of injuries that the court has found to not constitute GBH include:

  • Uncomplicated fractures of the arms or legs;
  • Facial fractures which require minor surgery with relatively short recover times; and
  • Cuts and lacerations.

What Actions Might Constitute Intent To Cause Grievous Bodily Harm?

When considering what grievous bodily harm means, it is important to look at the ordinary meaning of each of the words. In essence, grievous bodily harm refers to a really serious injury. Section 4(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 extends the definition to include any permanent or serious disfiguring of the person, the destruction of a foetus, and any grievous bodily disease.

In relation to the inclusion of ‘grievous bodily disease’, in NSW, individuals who knowingly infect others with HIV can be charged under this section.

It is necessary for the Prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you intended to cause grievous bodily harm. If the Prosecution are unable to prove that your intentions went so far, the more appropriate charge is ‘Recklessly cause Grievous Bodily Harm’ under section 35 of the Crimes Act 1900.

What Court will hear your matter?

The charge is strictly indictable which means that it will be finalised in the District or Supreme Court.

What must the prosecution prove?

To be convicted of the offence, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The accused caused a person to sustain an injury;
  • That the injury amounted to grievous bodily harm; and
  • The accused intended to cause grievous bodily harm.

Can I defend a charge of Intentionally Cause Grievous Bodily Harm?

A person charged with intentionally causing grievous bodily harm can rely on the defence of self-defence. For this defence to succeed, the accused must have believed on reasonable grounds that theiur actions were necessary to defend themself or another person from an attack. What is reasonable in the circumstacnes depends on the nature of the threat faced and the accused’s personal characteristis, such as their age, sex and size.

A person charged with the offence could also rely on the defence of duress, if they were essentailly ‘forced’ to commit the offence by another person making serious threats to them or to another person if they did not comply.

What is a standard non-parole period?

Certain offences in New South Wales have a standard non-parole period. Intentionally causing grievous bodily harm is one of them. A standard non-parole period is a set period of time that a person must spend in prison before they can be released to parole prior to their sentence ending. The court uses the standard period as a starting point when determining the sentence for someone convicted of intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The court then looks at whether there are reasons to set a shorter or longer period.

What is the standard non-parole period for Intent to Cause Grievous Bodily Harm?

The standard non-parole period for intentionally cause grievous bodily harm under s 33 of the Crimes Act is 7 years.

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

WHERE TO NEXT?

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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