law relating to wounding


When considering the law relating to wounding, it is important to consider some definitions.

In general medical terms, a ‘wound’ is considered to be damage to bodily tissues, and a layman would probably think of an ‘injury’ as being a wound that has been caused by something other than an instrument.

However, the situation becomes unclear in medico-legal circumstances, as there is no statute definition for a ‘wound’ or an ‘injury’. Some authors therefore propose that the term ‘wound’ should be applied where there is an injury arising from an assault (Mason 2001 pp.106-7).

Offences Against the Person Act 1861


The Offences against the Persons Act 1861 sets out the law relating to wounding in England and Wales, and a considerable body of case law has been built up to assist in the definition of wounding, injuries and assaults.

The principle offences are;

  • Wounding or causing grevious bodily harm with intent (S. 18)
  • Maliciously wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm with or without the use of any weapon or instrument (S. 20)
  • Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (S. 47)

R v Wilson (1983) indicates that injury may be ‘inflicted’ even in the event that there is no ‘assault’, and injury can be ‘caused’ without the use of force, provided it is ‘intended’ and intended to be ‘grievous’.

‘Assault’ and ‘battery’ were previously common law offences, now incorporated in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 S. 39;

  • Assault can include causing someone to ‘anticipate’ immediate violence (R v Ireland; R v Burstow (1997))
  • Battery involves some form of ‘infliction of personal violence’, but may be as little as ‘unwanted touching’ (Collins v Wilcock (1984))

When the legal definition of a ‘wound’ is considered, one can see from R v M’Loughlin (1838) that there must be a break in the whole skin (or a contiguous mucous membrane).

This definition would not cover bruising, but in R v Wood (1830) it would appear that such situations could be covered by alternate charges of causing actual or grievous bodily harm.

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  • Collins v Wilcock (1984) 3 ALL ER 374
  • Criminal Justice Act 1988 (
  • Mason J.K. (2001), ‘Forensic Medicine for Lawyers’, 4th Ed Butterworths
  • Offences against the Person Act 1861 (Wikipedia) (
  • R v Ireland; R v Burstow (1997) 4 ALL ER 225, HL (
  • R v M’Loughlin (1838) 8 C&P 635
  • R v Wilson (1983) 3 ALL ER 448
  • R v Wood (1830) 1 Mood CC 278

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