self defence - what is it, what does it mean?

Over the course of the your lifetime, whether it be on the school playground or in a nightclub, you will have undoubtedly heard one or more persons after being involved in a fight suggest that they were attacked and were trying to protect themselves, or acting in self defence. However, have you ever considered legally what is permitted as far as self defence is concerned?

A person may use reasonable force in order to defend oneself, defend another person, defend property, prevent the commission of a crime or to perform a lawful arrest.

What is reasonable force? Well, it firstly needs to be determined whether there was a necessity for force to be used at all, and if so, whether that force was reasonable in the circumstances.

If you are accused of a violent offence and have raised self defence, you would need to respond to those questions on reasonableness as you honestly believed them to be at the time of the incident. Your honest held belief would then be tested by the Courts as to whether a reasonable person would regard the force used as reasonable or excessive.

Common sense would dictate that if a person was to punch you once and then you responded with several punches and kicks, this may well be considered excessive as opposed to self defence.

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One of the key factors taken into account when considering the reasonableness of self defence are whether there were windows of opportunity to safely escape the situation after being attacked. It is not uncommon to deal with cases where defendants have remained at the scene of the incident longer than is necessary which results in them becoming actively involved again which can sometimes diminish their chances of raising a successful self defence argument.

Do you need to wait until you have been attacked first in order to defend yourself? The answer is no. It is possible that you may have honestly and genuinely believed that you were about to be attacked and are therefore, in law, permitted to deliver a “pre-emptive strike” in order to defend yourself from being attacked. The same principles on reasonableness will also apply to a pre-emptive strike.

At Burton Copeland, we deal with hundreds of cases involving violence each year, many of which raise the issue of self defence. If you are to be questioned or charged with a violent related offence, get in touch with us on 0161 827 9500 to discuss whether self defence may apply to your situation.

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Anthony Smith - Burton Copeland