ABH is the proper charge where there is significant injury to another, eg extensive bruising, black eye, cuts requiring medical treatment, broken teeth or psychiatric harm. It can include the shedding of blood, except that there is an alternative charge of malicious wounding which is intended to cover such an injury. There is a tendency to be rather flexible about the range of injuries encompassed in the notion of ABH on the part of the CPS to keep the case in the magistrates' court, the idea being to cut down costs. There have been cases of injuries consistent with a charge of GBH being reduced to "ABH" by the CPS, who are anxious to avoid a jury trial, where there is an indication that a guilty plea might be forthcoming, as common assault can only be heard in the Magistrates' Court. Similarly charges of "ABH" are vert frequently reduced to charges of common assault by prosecutors determined to keep them in the Magistrates' Court. An offence of assault is tried in the magistrates' court, with a maximum fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months' imprisonment.
If there is a racial element to the assault, the individual may be charged with racially aggravated assault under Section 29 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. In the magistrates' court the penalty is the same as for common assault a fine of up to £5,000, six months' imprisonment or both. In the Crown Court the penalty is two years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.
Where the charge is one of ABH,.The maximum sentence in the magistrates' court is six months' imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 or both. In the Crown Court the maximum sanction is five years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. As above, if the offence is racially aggravated, the sanction is the same in the magistrates' court but goes up to seven years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both in the Crown Court.
Assaults which have more serious physical and mental consequences may be judged to be assaults occasioning grievous bodily harm (GBH), eg broken limbs or injuries resulting in lengthy treatment or incapacity. The penalties for GBH are severe, with the possibility of life imprisonment if the offence is committed with intent. For GBH without intent, the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment.