What is Racially Aggravated Assault?: Legal Parameters and Consequences

By April 24, 2024 Criminal Law

In the United Kingdom, racially motivated hate crimes, including assaults, remain a serious issue despite efforts to combat racism and discrimination in society. Amidst these challenges, the question of “What is racially aggravated assault?” often arises, emphasising the need for better education in order for people to recognise the gravity of this crime and understand its impact. Indeed, education about the law is an essential tool in fostering a society that prioritises understanding, tolerance and empathy to create a more inclusive future.

Racially Aggravated Assault Explained

According to the non-profit group Stop Hate UK, the most reported type of hate crime in the UK involves some form of racial motivation, and 43% of reported incidents are race-related. Victims often report experiencing verbal abuse, physical violence and damage to personal property, illustrating the alarming prevalence and impact of racial bias.

Under sections 28 to 32 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, racially aggravated assault is defined as a criminal offence whereby an individual intentionally inflicts harm or threatens violence on another based on their race, religion, ethnicity or nationality. An offence is considered racially/religiously aggravated if:

  • “At the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
  • The offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.”

Racial or ethnic characteristics protected by law

UK law protects individuals from racially aggravated assault based on a broad range of characteristics associated with race, ethnicity and nationality. This encompasses not only physical characteristics but also cultural, linguistic and national identity. By safeguarding this wide spectrum of characteristics, the law aims to encompass the diverse manifestations of racial bias that may lead to assault, fostering a comprehensive approach to combating hate crimes in the UK.

Legal Parameters and Provisions 

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is a pivotal piece of legislation that defines and penalises racially aggravated assault and other similar offences in the UK. It states that a person will be guilty of racially aggravated assault if, motivated by the victim’s race, they committed:

  •       Malicious wounding or grievous bodily harm – the assault caused severe physical harm, including psychiatric injury or an infection.
  •       Actual bodily harm – the assault caused some hurt or injury. While it doesn’t have to be permanent, the injury must be more than “trifling” or “transient”.
  •       Strangulation or suffocation.
  •       Common assault – the offender inflicts violence on someone else or makes them feel that they will be attacked. Common assault does not need to involve physical violence. An individual          may be charged with this offence if they have simply used threatening words or gestures (e.g. raising a fist).

To put it simply, an individual may be charged with racially aggravated assault if they were to make a reference to a person’s nationality/ethnicity or use a racial slur before, during or after committing one of the offences outlined above. 

Other offences can be racially aggravated, including:

  • Criminal damage
  • Harassment or stalking
  • Certain public other offences such as broadcasting and/or possessing racially inflammatory material.

Consequences and Penalties

Now that we understand racially aggravated assault, it’s time to discuss the potential consequences of committing this type of crime. Anyone convicted of racially aggravated assault may face harsher penalties compared to non-aggravated offences. The severity of the penalty depends on factors such as the level of harm inflicted, the degree of racial hostility demonstrated and the circumstances surrounding the assault.

Consider the table below:


Maximum Prison Term

Non-racially aggravated Racially aggravated
Common assault 6 months 2 years
Actual bodily harm 5 years 7 years
Malicious wounding or grievous bodily harm 5 years 7 years


Besides imprisonment, potential penalties can include fines and community service.

Aggravating factors that may impact the severity of the punishment

Several aggravating factors can influence the severity of the punishment for racially aggravated assault. The level of premeditation, the use of weapons and the extent of harm inflicted on the victim are key considerations. If the offender has a history of racially motivated offences, this may also contribute to an escalation of the punishment.

For example, an offender may face a longer prison sentence if they have been found to have committed a high level of racial aggravation, which includes:

  •       Committing an offence predominantly motivated by racial aggravation.
  •       Being a member of or associated with a group promoting hostility based on race.
  •       Committing an offence whose nature caused severe distress to the victim and/or their family.
  •       Committing an offence that caused serious fear and distress throughout the local community.

What Should You Do If You Have Been Accused of Committing Racially Aggravated Assault 

If you have been accused of committing racially aggravated assault, it is imperative that you approach the legal process with due care and consideration. Here are some steps you should consider:

1. Seek legal advice

Consult a qualified lawyer who specialises in handling cases involving racially aggravated offences, such as one of our criminal law solicitors at Wheldon Law. We can provide you with essential guidance, assess the strength of the case against you, and help you understand your rights and options.

 2. Stay calm and composed

Facing criminal charges, especially those relating to racial animosity, can be emotionally challenging. However, remaining calm and composed throughout the legal proceedings is crucial. It is important that you avoid making any statements to the police or other parties without the presence of your solicitor.

 3. Gather evidence

Work closely with your solicitor to gather evidence and build a strong defence strategy. This may involve collecting witness statements, gathering documentation or surveillance footage, or identifying any mitigating factors that could mitigate the sentence if you are admitting the offence.

 4. Cooperate with the legal authorities

It is essential that you cooperate fully with the authorities throughout the investigation and court proceedings. This will include attending scheduled interviews, hearings and court appearances as and when required.

Let Us Help 

Racially aggravated assault constitutes a grave offence under UK law. If you find yourself accused of committing such an act, it’s vital to approach the ensuing legal proceedings with utmost care and attention. Remember, the legal process is designed to ensure fairness and justice for all parties involved. Seeking expert legal advice can provide invaluable guidance and support as you navigate this challenging ordeal. 

If you have been charged with or are under investigation for racially aggravated assault, we at Wheldon Law can provide expert legal guidance and ensure your rights are protected. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to attend the police station with you. Get in touch with us to receive some free preliminary legal advice.