What you MUST know about the law and self defense

Knowing the law can be vitally important when it comes to defending yourself in an assault
Knowing the law can be vitally important when it comes to defending yourself in an assault

Why is the law important to me when I defend myself in a fight?

This is a very common question.

To help answer it, let’s imagine a relatively common scenario.

So there you are in a pub or bar, minding your own business and someone threatens you for no reason. The verbals escalate and a fight ensues, you are mad and get the better of your assailant.

You knock him out cold.

He asked for it and you are still fuming. Just to make sure you give him a few boots in the head as he lays prostrate on the floor. People intervene and the fight is stopped. Fine. Well done. But…

The next thing you know you are arrested and after a short trial you are serving 6 months for aggravated assault. Oops! What happened? He started the fight. He attacked me. He got what he deserved. I don’t get it.

This is what happened. You didn’t understand the law and how it works.

Let’s have a look at what that is.

The Law And what is “Reasonable” Force

UK common law describes the use of Reasonable Force as the following:

“A defendant is entitled to use reasonable force to protect himself, others for whom he is responsible and his property. It must be reasonable.”

As you can see, the crunch part is the word “reasonable”. It can be quite elastic, depending on the perceived threat, but essentially it means you can do what is sufficient to defend yourself and NOTHING MORE.

So booting someone in the head while they are laid out unconscious is always deemed to be excessive and if there are witnesses to this, you could be in serious trouble with the law.

So how do we measure reasonable force?

That’s all well and good, you might say, but with all the different ways I could have reacted to an assault how do they measure reasonable force?

The judicial system has developed a form of assessment to help determine the level of reasonable force they think should have been used which can act as a guide and from this, a decision can be taken,

“In assessing the reasonableness of the force used: was the use of force necessary in the circumstances, i.e. Was there a need for any force at all? and was the force used reasonable in the circumstances?”

Government Legal Guidance

So what would an example guide look like?

A commonly used form of measurement would look like this. It is a breakdown of the criminal act and a score next to it indicating the level of severity of the crime.

Intent of the assailant 1- 5
Severity of the attack 1-5
Maximum score = 10

An example of an attack analysis might be:

A gun attack/ robbery

Intent 1
Severity 5
Threat rating and response code=6

If you don’t understand the law when it comes to self-defense you could easily end up being the one facing charges.

So the conclusion might well be something like this:

The robber never wanted to kill you and only wanted to take your wallet ( so a low score on intent) and this has been backed up by witness accounts.

The severity of the attack was quite high, but the two combined give a low score of six. So your response would be judged on that scale.

This system can help determine if excessive force was used in defense against any threat and for many people this is something they don’t like as often they see things through the eyes of someone intent on revenge, but whether they agree with it or not, that is the actual rule of thumb applied, so it should be something you are aware of if you don’t want to be caught up in an assault trial.

Understanding How YOU see “Reasonable Force” and how a court of law sees “Reasonable Force”

This last part is a very important point to understand as, in reality, it defines how you would be judged by a jury and not how you see it.

The Law states:

“Opinions differ on what constitutes reasonable force but, in all cases, the defendant does not have the right to determine what constitutes “reasonable force” because the defendant would always maintain they acted reasonably and thus would never be guilty… However, even allowing for mistakes made in a crisis, the amount of force must be proportionate and reasonable given the value of the interests being protected and the harm likely to be caused by the use of force. “

Which as you can see, is a vital part of the whole picture. You will always have your own idea of what is reasonable, but The Law of the land has its own idea about this and it is important that you understand this.

The overall conclusion when it comes to you and self-defense law

So to conclude. Basically speaking, you could be the one being convicted if you aren’t aware of how the law stands in relation to you and your assailant. Your position is open to manipulation by that very same assailant if you go beyond what is necessary when defending yourself.

Gain the knowledge you need to not only defend yourself physically. But also have a clear understanding of what the law is in self-defense and how you can stay on the right side of it.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

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