The UK Law in Relation to Self Defence and Personal Protection



The law in relation to reasonable force for purposes of self defence has now been collated in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and immigration Act 2008.

Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967
To gain a better understanding of the law in relation to self defence we can look at Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states that any person may use such force as is Reasonable in the circumstances in preventing a crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large. This Act of Parliament therefore, provides, in its interpretation, the right of all citizens to use force in their defence or in the defence of others in the prevention of a crime (based on the fact that any infliction of force upon another person may amount to an assault against the person and as such a crime).  Therefore, what would otherwise be regarded as criminal conduct is sometimes allowed as a lawful excuse. A list of lawful excuses for the use of physical force taken from the Law Commission Draft Criminal Code are itemized below:
  • To prevent or terminate crime, or to effect or assist in the lawful arrest of an offender or suspected offender or person unlawfully at large.
  • To prevent or terminate a breach of peace.
  • To protect himself or another from unlawful force or unlawful personal harm - this is self-defence broadened to cover defensive force in support of another person.
  • To prevent or terminate the unlawful detention of himself or another.
  • To protect property (whether belonging to himself or another) from unlawful appropriation destruction or damage.
  • To prevent or terminate a trespass to his person or property.
Therefore, we can see that the right to use physical force is ‘excused’ by law if it is Necessary to do so in line with one of the six lawful excuses listed above..

The general rule of law in this area is again Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 which states that “any person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in preventing a crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large”.

What does ‘Reasonable’ actually mean?
Reasonable force is based on two primary issues. That is that any force applied must be both Necessary and Proportionate in the circumstances if it is to be considered as Reasonable.

Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states that any person may use such force as is Reasonable in the circumstances in preventing a crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large. This Act of Parliament therefore, provides, in its interpretation, the right of all citizens to use force in their defence or in the defence of others in the prevention of a crime (based on the fact that any infliction of force upon another person may amount to an assault against the person and as such a crime).

Necessity
With regard to self defence or the defence of others a person would have lawful excuse if it became Necessary to use physical force to:
  • To prevent or terminate crime, or to effect or assist in the lawful arrest of an offender or suspected offender or person unlawfully at large.
  • To prevent or terminate a breach of peace.
  • To protect himself or another from unlawful force or unlawful personal harm - this is self-defence broadened to cover defensive force in support of another person.
  • To prevent or terminate the unlawful detention of himself or another.
  • To protect property (whether belonging to himself or another) from unlawful appropriation destruction or damage.
  • To prevent or terminate a trespass to his person or property.
There is some overlap between these situations, e.g. in most cases where a person is using force in self defence or in defence of another they will also most probably be acting to prevent a crime being committed by an aggressor. However, in some cases only the common law defence will be available, e.g. where the attacker against whom the force used is not committing a crime, for example because they are a child below the age of criminal responsibility.

Proportionality
A Proportionality standard has developed from case law. That is, the force used to repel the crime must be Proportionate to the force threatened. The standard is best defined in terms of what is Reasonably Proportionate to the amount of harm likely to be suffered by the defendant or likely to result if the forcible intervention is not made.



Reference Text - Mark Dawes NFPS Ltd