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The law and self defence

Written by Sam Hinton, Instructor

The law and self defence

Did you know that you ARE allowed to throw the first punch?

As a self-defence school it is vital that we not only teach people to protect themselves physically, but also legally. Understanding the law around self-defence and ensuring that there are no grey areas is a key part of our program.

Due to societies expectations and the risk of getting in trouble, many people are scared to throw the first punch or even defend themselves at all if it means they may get in trouble with the police – they would rather risk serious or life-threatening physical injuries and life long trauma than risk a run in with the police.

‘Self-defence’ is at its roots, the justification of the use of force. This means that by claiming ‘It was self-defence’ you are attempting to justify assaulting another person because it was essential for your own safety. In order to be considered ‘self-defence’ the use of force must fit into the following three criteria

1.The victim had an honestly held belief that their life or the life of another is in danger

2.There was no other option other than to use force

3.The force used was reasonable and proportionate to the threat being faced.

So let’s delve a little deeper and look a little more in depth about what an honestly held belief actually means and what application it has to self-defence law.

Having an honestly held belief means that you believed without any reasonable doubt, that your life or the life of a third party was endangered at the specific time you used self-defence.

In the heat of the moment when adrenalized, it is very difficult or even impossible to take in all the information about the situation you find yourself in. You may have a second or two to identify how many attackers there are, do they have a weapon? Are they skilled or unskilled? Was this situation premediated or not? what are their intentions? what is their size relative to you? Where are they relative to you? are you trapped or able to run? is anyone around who can help? It is likely you will have to act without a complete picture of the situation you are in.

Fortunately the law states that you may defend yourself based on the threat you perceived at the time you were attacked and provided that you honestly held that belief you can rely on that perception in court when deciding if your response was reasonable or not – even if it turns out that your belief at the time was incorrect.

After the event transpires you should make notes of what happened and how you felt as soon as possible. Once the adrenaline starts to wear off and you start to question your own perception it may come across as if you are doubting your own story. Be sure of your feelings and perceptions and be able to explain them confidently and accurately

The second criterion which needs to be checked when claiming self-defence as a justification for the use of force is that there was no other option but to use force. This means that if there is any other option this should be used first if possible, these include;
Avoiding situations
Deescalating situations
Running away

It may be the case that our awareness has let us down and we have unintentionally found our-selves in a violent situation that may require use of force. These are some examples of situations in which may prevent you from fleeing a violent situation;

1.You are cornered or surrounded
2.You are injured or tired or you think your attacker will definitely catch you
3.You are with someone who is unable to flee
4.Your mental state – you may freeze
5.You were caught by surprise

It is also important to remember that mutual combat, revenge and ‘lesson teaching’ cannot be considered self-defence. If you willingly enter into a violent encounter regardless of the situation it is unlikely that the self-defence justification can be used. Remember in the age of surveillance and mobile phones it is essential to demonstrate unwillingness to fight should you ever find yourself caught out.

Reasonable and proportionate… What does that mean?

When using force to defence yourself you must ensure it does not exceed the level of force that you are being subjected to. You may be justified in using greater force in the following scenarios;
1.Your attacker is superior to you in size, strength and/or skill.
2.Your attacker is armed.
3.You are facing multiple attackers

Consequently, you may need to reduce your level of force if;
1.Your attacker is smaller or weaker than you.
2.Your attacker only poses a moderate threat – such as unwanted attention or invasion of personal space.

It is also essential that use of force stops as soon as your attacker is unwilling or unable to continue attacking – the threat has gone. It has happened before that people who have genuinely been attacked and defended themselves ended up being prosecuted due to continuing to attack after the threat has stopped so it is vital that defendants control their emotions and refrain from entering a red-mist state.

Be aware that the level of force that you are using throughout an encounter should change and adapt as the situation transpires.

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