Self Defence

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Self Defence
At Common Law, there are three situations where reasonable force may be used:
1. Actions used to defend oneself from an attack.
2. Actions used to defend another.
3. Actions used to defend one's property.
These are covered under s.3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 which states:
"a person may use such force as it reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime."
Criminal Law Act 1967, Section 3
How Does the Defence Work?
When D pleads self defence it is up to the prosecution to disprove it. The prosecution must prove that:
1. The use of force was not necessary.
2. The degree of force was excessive, not reasonable in the circumstances.
The Degree of Force
The amount of force which can be used has now been explained in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
1. That a person acting under the stress of an attack by another cannot be expected to calculate the exact
amount of force which needs to be used in the circumstances.
2. If there is evidence that the person `honestly and instinctively' thought the level of force which he needed to
use to protect himself or another or to prevent crime was reasonable, then this provides strong evidence that
the defensive action taken was reasonable in the circumstances.
This act put statutory footing on to the previous case law:
Palmer v. R (1971)
"A person cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his... defensive action."
Lord Morris
Mistaken Use of Force
Williams (1987)
D saw V dragging a youth along the street and hitting him. The youth was calling for help. D punched V,
believing V was assaulting the youth. In fact, V was a police officer who had arrested the youth for
mugging an old lady.
D must be judged on the facts as he genuinely believed them to be. The belief does not have to be
This case has since been put on a statutory footing by the s.76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

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If the defendant made a mistake then he is to be judged on the facts as he believed them to be. This is
so, even if the mistake was unreasonable.
Drunken Mistake
s.76(5) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008) makes it clear that a defendant cannot rely on any mistaken
belief, if that mistake is made due to the defendant being voluntarily intoxicated.
e.g. D had taken drugs which caused hallucinations causing him to believe he was being attacked by snakes.…read more

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Relevance of the Defendant's Characteristics
Martin (Anthony) (2002)
D shot 2 burglars who had broken into his farmhouse. The evidence showed that the burglars were
leaving when D shot them, one in the back.
Personality disorders cannot be taken into account when considering self-defence.
It would be "wholly disproportionate to encourage medical disputes in cases of that sort."
Lord Woolf, CJ
Cairns (2005)
It was not appropriate for the courts to consider paranoid schizophrenia in relation to self-defence.…read more


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