Self defence is often argued as a general defence to a number of crimes, particularly in relation to offences against the person. Strictly speaking, self defence is not actually a defence to a crime but rather a claim that a lawful amount of force was used as opposed to an unlawful amount.
An example to demonstrate this point is the fact that acting under duress is a defence: you admit that you caused the illegal act but are claiming as a defence that you should not be convicted of it because you were acting under duress.
With self defence, however, the theoretical legal reasoning is that you did not unleash an illegal act because the force you used was legal in the circumstances as you were reasonably acting in self defence.
The Criminal Law Act 1967
There are various different scenarios when acting in self defence will be justified and a criminal solicitor will be able to advise on your specific circumstances.
However, the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides a useful direction:
“A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large”.
Case law provides the bulk of reasoning as to whether in your particular circumstances you acted in self defence and this is where a solicitor will look for legal evidence.
However, the principle of ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ must be shown if you are to prove self defence successfully.
It is important to note that as the use of force must be reasonable in the circumstances, if the use of force is not necessary it cannot be justified.
However, once the defence of self defence is raised it is for the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant did not actually act in self defence.
Pre-emptive self defence
It may also not be necessary for you to have received physical violence in order to invoke self defence; circumstances may apprehend a pre-emptive strike when the defendant is about to be attacked (it would not be in the public interest for a defendant to have to be physically struck before he could rely on self defence to defend himself).
Even if the defendant can show that he honestly believed the force he used was necessary in the circumstances, it is up to the jury to determine whether the degree of forced used was, in fact, reasonable in the circumstances.
The test that will generally be used in these circumstances is that the jury should ask themselves if they are satisfied that no reasonable man with the knowledge of the facts of the particular case, in the circumstances and time available to him, could be of the opinion that the prevention of the risk of harm to which others might be exposed, justified the use of force the accused contemplated using.
This is seen as a way of informing the jury that they should place themselves in the position of the defendant at the time of the attack and with the stress and time to react that he would have had, rather than using the benefit of hindsight.
There are, therefore, many complex factors involved in analysing whether somebody can rely on self defence and a solicitor should be contacted immediately to advise on your specific circumstances.
Self defence does not justify using unreasonable force on others.
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