A guide to the law and self defence

Individual Self-Defence in the UK

If an individual inflicts physical force or violence onto another that is considered unlawful and the individual could be prosecuted.   However, there are certain exceptions to this where the use of restricted force would be expected.  An example would be force inflicted in team sports, or a doctor on his patient.    

In addition UK law safeguards the right of any individual to use force for protection.  Where they have no other option, the use of force and violence, to a certain degree, is permitted, rendering lawful what would otherwise be illegal.  Using self-defence for protection can be justified in court even if the subject of the violence is seriously injured or even dies. 

Regulation of circumstances under which violence can be used in self-defence.

When can self-defence be used?

UK Common law dictates that force or violence may be used by an individual to defend himself or someone else from attack, or to defend their property.   Furthermore, section 3 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 dictates that:

  • “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

It is also permitted for an individual to act pre-emptively, before the crime is carried out if they genuinely believed it was the only available option of protection.  The best evidence of showing that force was the last resort and was absolutely necessary would be to show an initial retreat or withdrawal from the situation.  However this is not necessary in order to claim self-defence.

The law is clear that if the court believes that the individual provoked an attack or disturbance in order to use force and rely on the claim of self-defence, this claim will be dismissed. 

If an individual honestly believed that force was necessary at the time it was inflicted, but in hindsight it was clear that it was not, the claim of self-defence will still be applicable.  The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, Section 76 (7) states that 

  • “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

  • 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”

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  • How can self-defence be used?
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