Infliction of grievous bodily harm
Two offences in the ACT apply to assaults that intentionally or recklessly inflict grievous bodily harm. Section 19 of the Crimes Act authorizes a maximum sentence of 20 years if grievous bodily harm is inflicted intentionally. Section 20 of the Crimes Act authorizes a maximum sentence of 13 years if grievous bodily harm is inflicted recklessly. In either case, a longer maximum sentence is authorized if:
- the victim is a pregnant woman,
- the accused’s actions cause serious harm to the pregnancy, and
- the accused knew or should have known the victim was pregnant.
The difference between the two offences is the accused’s state of mind. The difference between these two offences and the offence of intentionally or recklessly inflicting actual bodily harm (section 23) is the degree of harm inflicted.
State of mind
Intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm charged under section 19 requires the prosecution to prove that:
- the accused committed a willful and conscious act (in other words, the accused meant to commit the act);
- the act inflicted grievous bodily harm; and
- the act causing the harm was committed with the specific intent to cause that harm.
Reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm charged under section 20 similarly requires the prosecution to prove that the accused meant to commit an act and that the act inflicted grievous bodily harm. Rather than proving that the accused intended to cause that harm, however, the prosecution must prove that the accused was aware that the harm was a probable consequences of the act but was indifferent to that consequence.
Intentional versus reckless behaviour
The difference between intentional and reckless behaviour can be illustrated by an example. If a person throws a rock at someone’s head with the desire to cause an injury, the rock thrower has acted intentionally. If a person throws a rock into a crowd without meaning to injure any particular person but knowing that the rock will probably strike and injure someone, and throws it without caring that an injury will probably occur, that person has acted recklessly.
Accidents and negligence
An accident that causes grievous bodily harm does not violate either section 19 or 20 provided that the accused was not acting recklessly. The defence that the injury was produced by accident may therefore lead to an acquittal. If grievous bodily harm was caused by extremely negligent (but not reckless) behaviour, the accused may be guilty of a lesser offence.
Grievous bodily harm
The difference between “inflicting actual bodily harm,” which is prohibited by section 23, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, which sections 19 and 20 prohibit, is the degree of harm inflicted. Grievous bodily harm is more severe than actual bodily harm.
Courts in the ACT and elsewhere have defined a grievous bodily harm as a “really serious” bodily harm. How serious is “really serious” is not always clear. At a minimum, however, a grievous bodily harm includes:
- a permanent or severe disfigurement;
- a severe disability;
- a debilitating or permanent disease; and
- for a pregnant woman, the loss of or serious injury to a fetus that is not caused by a medical procedure.
An argument that a bodily harm is not sufficiently serious to constitute a grievous bodily harm can sometimes provide a defence to the charge of intentional or reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm.