Self-defence is a legal doctrine which holds that one may use reasonable force in the defence of one's self or another. This defence arises both from common law and the Criminal Law Act 1967. Self-defence is a justification rather than an excuse, saying that a person's actions were not a crime at all.
Self-defence in English law is a complete defence to all non-sexual offences involving the unlawful use of force (i.e. anything from battery to murder). In other words, it results in a charge if a death occurs because minimal force was not used. Generally speaking, the rationale is that the defendant is not guilty of the offence if murder doesn't occur.
Because the defence results in a complete acquittal, the courts have interpreted the defence in a restrictive way so as to avoid acquitting too easily. For example, the courts will not usually acquit the defendant just because he thought the force used was reasonable – whether or not the force used was reasonable will be objectively assessed by the jury and not simply according to what the defendant thought at the time.
Lord Morris in Palmer v R stated the following about someone confronted by an intruder or defending himself against attack:
Opinions differ as to what constitutes "reasonable force" but, in all cases, the defendant does not have the right to determine this because they would always maintain that they had acted reasonably and thus would never be guilty. The jury, as ordinary members of the community, must decide the amount of force reasonable in the circumstances of the case. It is relevant that the defendant was under pressure from imminent attack and may not have had time to make entirely rational decisions, so the test must balance the objective standard of a reasonable person by attributing some of the subjective knowledge of the defendant, including what he had believed about the circumstances, even if they were mistaken. However, even allowing for mistakes made in a crisis, the amount of force must be proportionate and reasonable given the value of the interests being protected and the harm likely to be caused by use of force. The classic test comes from the case of Palmer v The Queen, on appeal to the Privy Council in 1971:
In R v Lindsay, the defendant, who picked up a sword in self-defence when attacked in his home by three masked intruders armed with loaded handguns, killed one of them by slashing him repeatedly. The prosecution case was that, although he had initially acted in self-defence, he had then lost his self-control and demonstrated a clear intent to kill the armed intruder. The Court of Appeal confirmed an eight-year term of imprisonment. It would not be expected that an ordinary householder who "went too far" when defending against armed intruders would receive such a long sentence.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 inserted a new section 76(6A) into the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to clarify that there is no duty to retreat, although an opportunity to retreat may still be taken into account. In April 2013, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 further amended section 76. This amended the law to allow homeowners to use disproportionate force, up to but not including grossly disproportionate. This was further clarified by the High Court in January 2016. Section 76 also clarified that the use of reasonable force may still be acceptable even if it was based on an honestly held belief, even if it was mistaken.
The modern law on belief is stated in R v Owino:
To gain an acquittal, the defendant must fulfil a number of conditions. The defendant must believe, rightly or wrongly, that the attack is imminent. Lord Griffith said in Beckford v R:
The time factor is important. If there is an opportunity to retreat or to obtain protection from the police, the defendant should do so, thereby demonstrating an intention to avoid being involved in the use of violence. However, the defendant is not obliged to leave a particular location even if forewarned of the arrival of an assailant (see duty to retreat). Furthermore, a defendant does not lose the right to claim self-defence merely because they instigated the confrontation that created the alleged need for self-defence. A person who kills in the course of a quarrel or even crime they started might still act in self-defence if the 'victim' retaliates or counterattacks. In Rashford, the defendant sought out the victim, intending to attack him in revenge for an earlier dispute, but the victim and his friends responded out of proportion to the defendant's aggression. At this point, the defendant had to switch from aggression to defence. The Court of Appeal held that the defendant will only lose the defence by being the aggressor throughout. The question is whether the defendant feared that he was in immediate danger from which he had no other means of escape, and if the violence he used was no more than appeared necessary to preserve his own life or protect himself from serious injury, he would be entitled to rely on self-defence. On the facts, the jury's decision to convict was not unsafe.
R v Williams (Gladstone) (1984) also states reasonable force may still be used lawfully if mistaken. This case covered the use of force for self-defence when used mistakenly but under a genuine and honestly held belief.
The issue of belief is more complicated when the defendant has consumed alcohol or drugs. In R v Letenock, the defendant claimed mistakenly to believe that the victim was about to attack him. The judge directed the jury that his drunkenness was irrelevant unless he was so drunk as to be incapable of knowing what he was doing. The Court of Criminal Appeal quashed his conviction for murder and substituted a verdict of manslaughter. Lord Reading CJ said at 224:
This suggests that the question is whether there was any intelligible basis for the defendant’s belief. Hatton held that a defendant who raised the issue of self-defence was not entitled to rely on a mistaken belief induced by voluntary intoxication, regardless of whether the defence was raised against a charge of murder or one of manslaughter. This applied the ratio decidendi in R v O' Grady for murder and R v Majewski for manslaughter. It follows that, if the defendant is voluntarily drunk and kills in what he mistakenly imagines to be self-defence because he imagines (as in Hatton) that the deceased was attacking him with a sword, he has no defence to a charge of murder; but if he claims to be so intoxicated that he is experiencing hallucinations and imagines that he is fighting giant snakes (as in Lipman) then he can be guilty only of manslaughter.
The House of Commons Library compiled a list of people who have acted in self-defence as part of its briefing on the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Householder Protection) Bill 2005.
Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides that:
(1) A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.
(2) Subsection (1) above shall replace the rules of the common law on the question when force used for a purpose mentioned in the subsection is justified by that purpose.
This abolished common law rules on what was "reasonable," such as the duty to retreat. The definition of what constitutes a 'crime' was clarified under R v Jones (Margaret), R v Milling et al: HL 29 MAR 2006 which stated it covered any domestic criminal offence under English/Welsh law
Thus, reasonable force can be used in the prevention of any crime or in making an arrest to:
The common law decision under R v Griffiths (1988) affirms the common law use of force as "an honestly held belief that you or another, are in imminent danger, then you may use such force as is reasonable and necessary to avert that danger".
Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 codifies English case law on self-defence. It made no changes to the law. However, the section was amended on 25 April 2013 by section 43 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 to allow people to use greater force in defence of their homes against burglars. In those circumstances, force need no longer be reasonable as long as it is not "grossly disproportionate."
A private citizen does have a power to any person arrest (Citizen's arrest) under s24A PACE1984 and the common law breach of the peace power to arrest and, where it is lawfully exercised, may use reasonable force and other reasonable means to effect it. In R v Renouf, the Court of Appeal ruled that s3(1) was available against a charge of reckless driving where the defendant had used his car to chase some people who had assaulted him and had manoeuvred his car to prevent their escape. Lawton LJ said:
The right to self defence is provided by the Common law; the right to prevent crime comes from statute (S3 Criminal Law Act 1967: reasonably necessary self defence, and reasonable force to prevent crime and arrest suspected offenders.
The ‘self defence’ and ‘prevention of crime’ tests are identical, the only difference are that the two rights come from different sources but the standard of force is the same: meaning in practice S3 CLA1967 prevention of crime covers most things and common law is superfluous. The definition of what constitutes a "crime" was clarified in R v Jones (Margaret) QB 259 which stated under the S3 CLA1967 meaning, it was held to be any domestic crime in England/Wales.
The CLA1967 covers persons, property, crime prevention and arrest. Defence of another excludes anyone you don’t have a nexus with so is arguably not a right to defend strangers, instead that comes under prevention of crime. Defence of property must be to ward off an unlawful crime or act.
Common law has added a necessity test, so force must be necessary and reasonable. Necessity is relevant to reasonableness, but just because some force is necessary doesn’t prove the actual force used was reasonable. Necessity and reasonableness is judged on the basis of your honest belief of the circumstances (including the danger). The reasonableness of your belief is relevant to whether you held it honestly, but not whether it was a mistake. The jury would then decide whether, if they were in the situation you subjectively believed yourself to be, the force was objectively reasonable. You are not expected to weigh force to a nicety, and instinctive reaction is good evidence of reasonableness. An allowance is made for the emotional strain and stresses of being attacked.
This is harder to get wrong as the test is whether:
So there might only be a summary offence or no offence; you don’t have to tell them anything; you don’t have to wait for the police. But like arrest, it does have to be to prevent crime or escape. You don’t have to retreat (although that is a factor in assessing reasonableness), or wait for the first blow, but must not take revenge. Revenge is evidence of unreasonableness and seeking confrontation removes the defence. No force might be reasonable if a threat would have sufficed. A witness to violent crime with a continuing threat of violence may well be justified in using extreme force to remove a threat of further violence (CPS guidance). Physical characteristics can be relevant to reasonableness, eg in a fist fight a man twice the size should take it easy or resist provocation. Injuries are relevant to reasonableness and public interest once unreasonableness has been found. CPS say that leeway should be given to those who have to confront in their job such as bouncers. It would be different if the court thought volunteers went out looking for confrontations. The CPS are told not to prosecute if the accused acted reasonably in preventing crime or apprehending offenders, but a factor is whether self defence was more vigilantism and violence than preserving law and order. They are supposed to allow leeway for excessive force that is not far from reasonable.
The CPS first have to check they can probably rebut self-defence beyond reasonable doubt, and even if they can then they have to check if prosecution is in the public interest. To prove assault despite a claim of self-defence CPS must prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was not defence of person or property or crime prevention or lawful arrest, or that force was excessive. Serious injury or use of weapons or ambush usually requires prosecution due to public interest if the force is unreasonable whereas minor injuries can suggest the public interest does not require prosecution. In case the CPS are dubious of your claim that force was reasonable, only using your bare hands, protecting the suspect from injury and only intervening in unexpected incidents rather than laying in wait are ways to try to prevent prosecution. CPS should be slow to prosecute where the public interest is affected by the complainant having been committing crime at the time; factors then include the damage or injury caused by the complainant and whether overzealous force was used to honestly uphold the law without revenge or vigilantism. CPS guidance is that violence is to be discouraged but responsible public spirited crime prevention is to be encouraged and they are to carefully balance the two.
You can use reasonable force to stop a likely breach of the peace, ie likely injury or damage to a witness’s property (but not mere abuse or disturbance unless it makes you fear such injury or damage). This potentially gets around the problem that assault and threatening behaviour are summary offences. Breach of the peace is not a crime but is arrestable and can lead to binding over. Uniquely the power of arrest comes from a duty to prevent breach of the peace. (There is a wider duty to preserve the public peace on request by the police, failure without lawful excuse is indictable if able bodied). The courts accept that this is an ‘imperfect’ obligation so is no longer enforced. The risk of breach of the peace breaking out must be more than a real possibility but you are not expected to wait until crisis management is the only option. The police have more power as they can give a warning to cease disturbance then arrest for obstruction before breach of the peace is imminent. An example of a valid citizens arrest to prevent breach of the peace was where an off duty constable bundled a man off a bus who barged ahead of the queue at the bus stop which he feared would provoke an affray.
The use of force to prevent crime, including crimes against property, should be considered justifiable because of the utility to society, i.e. a police officer using reasonable force to lawfully arrest a criminal or suspect maximizes net utility. But, where the officers make mistakes, the law can be unpredictable. In R v Dadson, a police officer shot and wounded an escaping thief. At the time, any degree of force could be used to arrest a fleeing felon but, when he fired the gun, he did not know who the thief was. He was convicted of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm because the thief was shot and the gun was fired by a man not caring whether the shot was lawful or not. That the thief was later proved to be a felon did not prevent a concurrence between actus reus and mens rea at the instant the shot was fired, i.e. no retrospective justification is allowed. It is noted that the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at the Stockwell tube station, south London, on 22 July 2005 resulted from the use of a then secret shoot-to-kill policy called Operation Kratos. English law has no general defence of superior orders, and the conduct of every police officer has to be judged on the facts as they believed them to be.
In R v Pagett, to resist lawful arrest, the defendant held a pregnant girl in front of him as a shield and shot at armed policemen who returned fire as permitted under their rules of engagement, killing the girl. It is a proportionate response to shooting, to shoot back. In balancing the harms, the greater harm to be avoided is a violent suspect firing and killing a police officer or any other bystander. On the issue of whether the defendant caused the victim's death, the Court of Appeal held that the reasonable actions of a third party acting in self-defence and defence of others could not be regarded as a novus actus interveniens because self-defence was a foreseeable consequence of his action and had not broken the chain of causation.
In Beckford v R the defendant police officer was told that a suspect was armed and dangerous. When that man ran out of a house towards him, the defendant shot him because he feared for his own life. The prosecution case was that the victim had been unarmed and thus presented no threat to the defendant. Lord Griffiths approved a model direction to juries, laid down by Lord Lane in R. v Williams:
The defendant, therefore, had a defence of self-defence because the killing was not unlawful if, in the circumstances, as he perceived them to be, he had used reasonable force to defend himself.
Since the "war on terrorism" began in 2001, the UK has seen a substantial increase in the use of armed police officers. The issue of the extent to which soldiers may be allowed to shoot a suspect in defence of themselves and others has therefore become more relevant to English law, although it has always been highly relevant given the role of the military in the policing of Northern Ireland. In AG for Northern Ireland's Reference, a soldier on patrol in Northern Ireland shot and killed an unarmed man, who ran away when challenged. The trial judge held that the prosecution had failed to prove that the soldier intended to kill or cause serious bodily harm, and that the homicide was justifiable under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 (identical wording to the English section). The Lords decided that the judge's ruling was purely one of fact, and therefore declined to answer the legal question of justification. But Lord Diplock commented:
In R v Clegg Lord Lloyd of Berwick said at 497:
One interpretation would be that, when a government deploys highly armed soldiers, equipped and trained to kill, in a civilian area, the law must give the armed forces greater licence to kill than would be granted to any other person including, presumably, a less lethally equipped police officer. In the event, Private Clegg was convicted of murder. He had been on patrol to catch joyriders, and fired three shots at the windscreen of a speeding car as it approached the checkpoint. He fired a fourth shot, killing a passenger, after the car had passed him and was speeding away. The first three shots were fired in self-defence, or in defence of fellow soldiers, but the fourth shot was not a response to imminent danger. The judge dismissed the evidence of bruising to a fellow soldier's leg as a fabrication to suggest injury to that soldier from the car. The Lords observed that army Rules of Engagement given to every soldier on a "yellow card" entitled "[i]nstructions for opening fire in Northern Ireland" could, on a literal reading, justify firing on a car where a person had been injured by it, irrespective of the seriousness of the injury. But, in any event, the Lords said that the card had no legal force because English law does not have a general defence of superior orders. Lord Lloyd of Berwick cited with approval the Australian High Court in A v Hayden (No 2) followed by the Privy Council in Yip Chiu-Cheung v The Queen where the "good" motive of the undercover drug enforcement officer was irrelevant (the accused conspired to take drugs from Hong Kong to Australia - as the officer intended the agreement to be carried out to break a drugs ring, a conspiracy between the two was proved. In A v Hayden, Murphy J. stated:
The Law Commission's report on Partial Defences to Murder rejects the notion of creating a mitigatory defence to cover the use of excessive force in self-defence, but accepts that the "all or nothing" effect can produce unsatisfactory results in murder cases. For example, a battered woman or abused child using excessive force because they are physically at a disadvantage and not under imminent attack, would be denied a defence. Further, an occupant not sure if violence to defend their property against invasion is reasonable, may feel forced to do nothing. It was always possible the same set of facts could be interpreted as either self-defence or provocation where there was a loss of control resulting in death. Thus, the Commission recommends a redefinition of provocation to cover situations where a person acts lethally out of fear. This reflects the present view of psychiatrists that most people act in violent situations with a combination of fear and anger in their minds, and to separate the two emotions is not legally constructive.
The Criminal Law Act 1967 (c.58) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made some major changes to English criminal law. Most of it is still in force.Defence of property
The defence of property is a common method of justification used by defendants who argue that they should not be held liable for any loss and injury that they have caused because they were acting to protect their property. Courts have generally ruled that the use of force may be acceptable.Offensive weapon
An offensive weapon is a tool made, adapted or intended for the purpose of inflicting mental or physical injury upon another person.Powers of the police in England and Wales
The powers of the police in England and Wales are defined largely by statute law, with the main sources of power being the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Police Act 1996. This article covers the powers of police officers of territorial police forces only, but a police officer in one of the UK's special police forces (most commonly a member of the British Transport Police) can utilise extended jurisdiction powers outside of their normal jurisdiction in certain defined situations as set out in statute. In law, police powers are given to constables (both full-time and volunteer special constables). All police officers in England and Wales are 'constables' in law whatever their rank. Certain police powers are also available to a limited extent to police community support officers and other non warranted positions such as police civilian investigators or designated detention officers employed by some police forces even though they are not constables.
There are several general powers constables have that normal members of the public do not, including :-
the power to detain people in certain circumstances
the power to stop and search people/vehicles in certain circumstances
various powers of entry in certain circumstances
the power to seize and retain property in certain circumstances
the power to arrest people with or without warrant for any offence and in various other circumstances. (A significantly wider power than that provided to members of the public, often described as 'citizens arrest')
the power to direct the behaviour of persons and vehicles on highways and in other public places
the power to demand name/address and certain documents of anyone driving a motor vehicle on a public roadThe powers have various limits and generally require a clear reason for their exercise to be made known to a person subject of to one of the above powers, unless impractical due to the persons behavior or unusual circumstances.
Powers to stop and search can be extended on a limited (by place and duration) basis by legislation such as s.60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 or ss.44-47 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Once a person has been arrested his/her vehicle or residence can be searched without the need for a warrant to be obtained for the purpose of obtaining evidence connected to the offence causing the arrest, as long as the offence or suspected offence was indictable. This power is provided by Section 18(1) or 18(5) and/or 32(2) of PACE 1984 depending on the circumstances. If a person is arrested in a premises or were in a premises immediately before arrest, Section 32(2) states a Constable has the power "to enter and search any premises in which he was when arrested or immediately before he was arrested for evidence relating to the offence". Constables and PCSOs also have the power under this section to search an individual for items that may assist or facilitate an escape from custody (i.e. an arrest or detention)R v O'Grady
R v O'Grady  QB 995 was a case that went on appeal to the UK Court of Appeal of England and Wales which stated that a drunken mistake can only be used to negate mens rea (and only for crimes of specific intent) and could not be used to justify an unreasonable use of force under a plea of self-defense. Ordinarily, in relation to a plea of self-defense, the necessity for force must be judged from the defendant's perspective. None the less, a drunken mistake could not be used to support a plea of self-defense concerning a mistaken belief as to whether the level of force applied was reasonable.Self-defence (Australia)
In the criminal law of Australia, self-defence is a legal defence to a charge of causing injury or death in defence of the person or, to a limited extent, property, or a partial defence to murder if the degree of force used was excessive.Self-defense (Sweden)
In Sweden, the law of self-defense (Swedish: nödvärn) allows a person attacked to excuse or justify a proportionate use of violence in defense of the person or property.Tony Martin (farmer)
Anthony Edward Martin (born 16 December 1944) is a farmer from Norfolk, England, who shot a burglar dead in his home in August 1999. Martin was convicted of murder, later reduced to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility, and served three years in prison, having been denied parole. He has since lived at a secret address.Use of force
The use of force, in the context of law enforcement, may be defined as the "amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject".Use of force doctrines can be employed by law enforcement officers and military personnel on guard duty. The aim of such doctrines is to balance the needs of security with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects. Injuries to civilians tend to focus attention on self-defense as a justification and, in the event of death, the notion of justifiable homicide.
U.S. military personnel on guard duty are given a "use of force briefing" by the sergeant of the guard before being assigned to their post.
For the English law on the use of force in crime prevention, see Self-defence in English law. The Australian position on the use of troops for civil policing is set out by Michael Hood in Calling Out the Troops: Disturbing Trends and Unanswered Questions; compare "Use of Deadly Force by the South African Police Services Re-visited" by Malebo Keebine-Sibanda and Omphemetse Sibanda.Vincent family
The Vincent family have been described by The Times as a "family of career criminals [who] have a string of convictions for targeting elderly householders". They are part of a Gypsy community living in the county of Kent, England.In 2011, Henry Vincent (born c. 1959) was jailed with his son, Henry Vincent Jr., for defrauding an 81 year old man by showing him a handful of maggots that he had brought with him to convince his victim that the joists of his roof were rotten. In April 2018, his wife Rosemary purchased the grade II listed Snagbrook House in Hollingbourne, Kent, from Dudley Wright for £325,000 compared with a market value estimated by The Times to be £1.7 million.In April 2018, Henry Vincent junior died after he was stabbed by a pensioner whose home in Hither Green he was robbing with another man. The case caused a national sensation in which the ability of home-owners to defend themselves against intruders was debated after the homeowner was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was later released.Also in April 2018, David Vincent and his son also David, an uncle and cousin of Henry Vincent junior, were jailed for defrauding a homeowner.
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