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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
English Self-Defence Law to be Clarified

Hi All,

Today the BBC website reports clarification on English self-defence Law. It includes a short video of Justice Sectary Ken Clarke that will no doubt also be on tonight’s news. Basically, they are keeping things exactly as it is, but with the intention of enshrining the common law in statue law. I totally agree that there is “constant doubt” about this, and I welcome anything that will make things clearer for the general public and help dissuade the media from spreading misinformation:


In the video Ken Clarke states:

"It's quite obvious that people are entitled to use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves and their homes … If an old lady finds she's got an 18 year old burgling her house and she picks up a kitchen knife and sticks it in him she has not committed a criminal offence … We will make it quite clear you can hit the burglar with the poker if he's in the house and you have a perfect defence when you do so.”

It’s always been a myth that the law is waiting to persecute people the instant they defend themselves or their property. As is made clear in the video, they are changing nothing; simply clarifying the rights we already have. The law is very clear that you have a right to use force to protect yourself if you honestly believe yourself to be facing a threat (even if that belief is mistaken), and that you are not expected to “judge to a nicety the level of force used”.

Personally, I think the law is already very clear, is well considered and works well in practise. However, there is no doubt much confusion exists around it. Much of this confusion comes from political point scoring from all political parties and the media’s desire to get a “good story” by whipping up a bit of false outrage at how masses of people go to jail for defending themselves (when they don’t).

The worry though is that this misinformation plays into the hands of criminals by making people afraid to protect themselves for fear of legal consequences and there are, sadly, quite a few instructors who add to this by not knowing the law as well as they should. I’m therefore very happy about this concerted effort to clarify things. Worth pointing out again that no change is proposed, just clarification of the rights already existing under common law.

All the best,


Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

I'm really interested to see the clarification of this, as I think the law is possibly the most-misunderstood aspect of self-protection training. I've had so many people, parents, kids, teachers even, asking me if it's ok to hit someone if you can't get away! I'm not even joking.

Though to be fair, the law's always been pretty clear to me - I think it's just that a lot of people don't look into it much and stick to what teachers tell you in school all-too-often. My brother in high school has actually been told straight that 'it's worse to hit someone back than it is for them to hit you in the first place'! Lots of them seem to be unable to make the distinction between retaliation and defence.

It's good that people are taking the time to clarify things like this though. :)

Ciaran's picture

Dear all,

If you get the chance I would recommend reading Rob Manning's book 'Justifiable Force: A practical guide to the law of self defence.'  I found it quite hard going but it written by a lawyer who is also a shotokan Yondan, I recall there are examples of real cases to examine the law on the issue. 

Worth a look