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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Reasonable force in UK law

Hi All,

Following on from recent discussions on the law, I thought people may be interested in what the legalities are around “reasonable force” in the UK.

Reasonable force is legally defined under Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The various elements of the common law defence of "Self-Defence", formerly to derived from section 3 of the 1967 Act and a various bits from the courts of appeal, were brought together and codified by section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

Here is a directly link to the government website: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/4/section/76

Here it is in full:

76 - Reasonable force for purposes of self-defence etc.

(1)This section applies where in proceedings for an offence—

(a)an issue arises as to whether a person charged with the offence (“D”) is entitled to rely on a defence within subsection (2), and

(b)the question arises whether the degree of force used by D against a person (“V”) was reasonable in the circumstances.

(2)The defences are—

(a)the common law defence of self-defence; and

(b)the defences provided by section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (c. 58) or section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 (c. 18 (N.I.)) (use of force in prevention of crime or making arrest).

(3)The question whether the degree of force used by D was reasonable in the circumstances is to be decided by reference to the circumstances as D believed them to be, and subsections (4) to (8) also apply in connection with deciding that question.

(4)If D claims to have held a particular belief as regards the existence of any circumstances—

(a)the reasonableness or otherwise of that belief is relevant to the question whether D genuinely held it; but

(b)if it is determined that D did genuinely hold it, D is entitled to rely on it for the purposes of subsection (3), whether or not—

(i)it was mistaken, or

(ii)(if it was mistaken) the mistake was a reasonable one to have made.

(5)But subsection (4)(b) does not enable D to rely on any mistaken belief attributable to intoxication that was voluntarily induced.

(6)The degree of force used by D is not to be regarded as having been reasonable in the circumstances as D believed them to be if it was disproportionate in those circumstances.

(7)In deciding the question mentioned in subsection (3) the following considerations are to be taken into account (so far as relevant in the circumstances of the case)—

(a)that a person acting for a legitimate purpose may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action; and

(b)that evidence of a person's having only done what the person honestly and instinctively thought was necessary for a legitimate purpose constitutes strong evidence that only reasonable action was taken by that person for that purpose.

(8)Subsection (7) is not to be read as preventing other matters from being taken into account where they are relevant to deciding the question mentioned in subsection (3).

(9)This section is intended to clarify the operation of the existing defences mentioned in subsection (2).

(10)In this section—

(a)“legitimate purpose” means—

(i)the purpose of self-defence under the common law, or

(ii)the prevention of crime or effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of persons mentioned in the provisions referred to in subsection (2)(b);

(b)references to self-defence include acting in defence of another person; and

(c)references to the degree of force used are to the type and amount of force used.

Those teaching self-protection in the UK need to be familiar with this as it vitally important information.

As you can see “reasonable force” is determined by what the person honestly believed the situation to be – even if they were mistaken; providing that mistake was not due to voluntary intoxication i.e. drinking too much – and if the action was “instinctive”. Also note that section 7a states that a person may not be able to weigh to a nicely the level of force used.

It’s also important to note that “legitimate purpose” revolves around the prevention of crime (against oneself or others) and hence there is no right to claim “self-defence” if you had consented to a street fight.

All the best,

Iain

JWT
JWT's picture

Thanks Iain.  This information is easily available for those who take the time to look it up.  

Further to this, Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (referenced above) 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.”

I would highlight that reasnable force can be used "in preventing a crime".

In terms of our own responsibilities, please note what subsection 5 of Section 76 says vis a vis intoxication!

Both of the above laws come under the umbrella of the Human Rights Act 1998, article 2 of which states that:

“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No-one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.”

“Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of the Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:

a. In defence of any person from unlawful violence; 

b. In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;

c. In action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection."

John Titchen

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Interesting stuff.

I always wonder how some of the school 'anti-bullying' policies view the right to use reasonable force.

In my lads school the one who defends is as likely to end up punished as the one who attacks.  They are advised to never respond physically but to "tell a teacher' which I personally always found rather difficult with a foot on my throat.

So I tell my lads to defend themselves appropriately, take the bollocking, then calmly state that the law of the land ref: reasonable force takes precedence over school rules.

So far the teachers have been lost for words ...

Gary

Tau
Tau's picture

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
I always wonder how some of the school 'anti-bullying' policies view the right to use reasonable force.

In my lads school the one who defends is as likely to end up punished as the one who attacks.  They are advised to never respond physically but to "tell a teacher' which I personally always found rather difficult with a foot on my throat.

So I tell my lads to defend themselves appropriately, take the bollocking, then calmly state that the law of the land ref: reasonable force takes precedence over school rules.

So far the teachers have been lost for words ...

I cover this in class. I would like to completely agree. In theory I do. But in practice I find unfortunately I can't. Children often don't have the judgement that adults do. Teenagers especially with all of the pressures that they face (peer pressure, external social pressure, parental, hormonal, academic and so on.) Also, schoolchildren often can't escape the situation. Attacks / bullying is often small scale, but sustained. Teachers are also flawed human beings and despite our perception of their responsibility they're there to teach, not to police. Can the child victim articulate the problem, the encounter and their perception of the appropriateness of their response? Many adults can't. Does the child even get the opportunity?

My lot understand their rights but also the perceptions that come with defence. As you say, the victim will often be punished too. In year eleven I was nearly suspened after an altercation. I only punched once compared to my attacker's several. The difference was that my punch did the damage. The attacker even admitted fault!

I find this by far the most diffcult aspect of teaching pragmatic Martial Arts.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Quote:
So I tell my lads to defend themselves appropriately, take the bollocking, then calmly state that the law of the land ref: reasonable force takes precedence over school rules.

Quote:
I cover this in class. I would like to completely agree. In theory I do. But in practice I find unfortunately I can't. Children often don't have the judgement that adults do...

Interesting perspectives. Since this has happened to me personally I have some observations and a point of view:

I suffered a good deal of bullying at school. I grew up in country Western Australia and it was...well....a little bit redneck. Initially, I had no answer to the physcal abuse and humilation, but eventually my parents sat me down and we talked about it. My biggest fear was not the bullies, it was getting in trouble by retaliating. This only lead to a lot more bullying. So my parents gave me "permission" to respond physically, if I felt threatened or was being physcally attacked, I could fight as hard as I needed to but I had to make sure I won. That little caveat at the end was very important. My parents said that were I to be brought before a teacher they were to be immediately summoned where they would back me up. It was immensely liberating. I remeber the feeling of relief very well.

And so the tables turned. When the bullies started up, I fought ferociously, and didn't always wait for the first punch. I had two things in my mind; the permission, and the requirement to win. On one occasion a teacher actually saw me take on a bully after being alerted by one of the girls and told my parnets later that after seeing me winning turned around and walked the other way. Those "bullys" were well known to the school and they knew I was having trouble with them. I ended up never having to speak to a teacher about it and after about half a school year or so, I was left alone.

I agree partially with Tau - yes, kids do not always have the judgement. But it is almost as unacceptable to be bullied as it is to be bullied, and not allowing it, as hard as it is for the bullied, is just as important. Unforutantely, schools rarely have the capacity to understand these nuances and as Tau says, they are there to teach not police - yet they do actually have to and with inadequate training. Therefore my advice to my own children and students is that being bullied is intolerable and must not be allowed. You are not allowed to be bullied. It may be that will cost you trouble with the school, but if you have done your job properly by alerting your parents and the school that bullying has been occuring, then it will be much easier to jusitfy any reaonsable thing you feel you have to do to make it stop - and as soon as possible before it escalates and gets out of hand.