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abh and common assault

What Is the Difference Between ABH and Common Assault?

In the realm of Canadian law, the many different types of assault can be confusing. Knowing the difference between these charges is crucial as it can change the severity of the offence and, ultimately, the sentence given if found guilty.

Two charges that are closely related are ABH and common assault. However, while they both come under the umbrella of assault, they do have some significant differences. Here, we’ll look at what they are so you can fully understand both charges.


Common Assault

Common assault is also known as simple assault. It is defined under section 265 of the Canadian Criminal Code. This offence occurs when there is any intentional application of force to someone else without their consent.

Along with actual force, the charge also covers the threat of such force. Common instances of this crime occurring are grabbing, pushing, or slapping someone. No long-lasting bodily harm has occurred, but intentional force was used against the victim.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm (ABH)

Assault causing bodily harm is a more serious offence, which you’ve probably worked out already from its full title. This is defined under section 267 of the Canadian and again covers the intentional or reckless use of force.

The harm caused goes beyond being “transient” or “trifling”. This effectively means that the harm goes beyond the likes of bruising and scratches, and is more likely to include fractures, lacerations, or concussions. These injuries are unlikely to be long-term issues but will require medical attention.

assault causing bodily harm

Elements and Proof

Common Assault

To prove common assault, it must be shown that the accused has intentionally applied force to the victim without their consent. This force doesn’t need to result in an injury, and just the act of touching or threatening can constitute an assault.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm (ABH)

Again, the prosecution must prove that an intentional use of force was used. Here, the harm inflicted should necessitate medical treatment or attention. Medical records, witness testimonies, and expert opinion can all be used to prove the assault.

Severity and Penalties

Common Assault

Common assault is the less severe of the offences and, therefore, comes with a lesser punishment. Common sentences include fines, probation, or community service, but they can include a jail term of up to five years.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm (ABH)

Upon conviction, ABH penalties are much more severe and are highly likely to result in a longer term of imprisonment. In addition to a prison sentence, the accused may face other consequences such as probation, counselling, and restrictions on contact.

Key Differences Between ABH And Common Assault?

Now we’ve looked at these two charges separately, let’s review the key differences between them:

Injury Severity – The biggest difference is the injury calls. At their basic level, common assault can include minor injuries or even no physical harm at all. Meanwhile, ABH will result in substantial injuries that require medical attention.

Intent – Both offences require intent.  To determine intent, actions leading up to the assault will be considered, along with the severity of the injuries.

Legal Representation – Given the seriousness of ABH, anyone accused will need expert legal representation. A skilled criminal defence lawyer can build a robust defence strategy to achieve the best possible outcome in court.

 Related article:

Best Defenses Against Assault Charges

If charged with any type of assault, it’s important to speak to a lawyer. They will go through the circumstances of the case to build a defence. Here are the most common strategies:

Self-Defence – You have the right to defend yourself should you believe that you were going to be the victim of assault or already have been. This defence often comes down to who first committed an offence.

Defence of Others – In a similar way, you can claim that you acted in defence of others. For example, you used force to prevent someone else from being assaulted.

Consent – Assault requires a lack of consent. If your lawyer is able to prove that the accuser consented to your use of force, then you have a great chance of beating the charge.

Lack of Intent – As long as it wasn’t reckless, the use of force needs to be deemed intentional to be seen as assault. If you hurt someone by accident, then you’re unlikely to be found guilty.

Reasonable Doubt – If a lawyer can raise any type of reasonable doubt, then the case should lead to acquittal. This can include any of the above but also include questioning testimonies, evidence, and the injuries caused.

best defenses against assault charges

Final Thoughts

In Canadian law, the distinction between ABH and common assault is primarily in the severity of the injuries. A charge of ABH requires a higher level of bodily harm.

Due to this, the penalties for ABH are much higher and increase the importance of choosing expert legal representation. If you’re facing an assault charge or need further advice, call AGP LLP today and we’ll be happy to schedule you a consultation.

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