OCR A2 Criminal Law Self-Defence

Revision cards for self-defence 


Self-Defence, Defence of Another, Prevention of Cr

- Self-defence and defence of another found in common law
- S3(1) Criminal Law Act 1967 - statutory defence of prevention of crime - a person may use force reasonable in the circumstances to prevent crime or arrest or help to arrest offenders, suspected offenders of persons unlawfully at large
- Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 clarifies the law

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What degree of force is acceptable?

- Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 - difficult for a person to weigh up exactly how much force is needed in a pressure situation, so assessed by what they honestly and instinctively thought was reasonable, although the force must be used when the danger of the situation is still on-going

- Subjective test
- No duty to retreat

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What if a mistake is made about the level of force

- D is judged by the circumstances as he honestly believed them to be
- Jury decides if amount of force used was reasonable, based on D's genuine perception
- S76(3) CJA 2008 confirms a mistake need only be honest and not necessarily reasonable

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What if the mistake is as a result of intoxication

Drunken mistake is no defence

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What if the D uses a pre-emptive strike?

- D can act first to prevent force
- Sometimes D can take precautions and even break the law so he can defend himself should the need arise

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What if the D uses excessive force?

The defence will fail

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Are the D's characteristics relevant?


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Bird (1985)

D gouged out ex-boyfriend's eye during heated argument and after he hit D. D's conviction quashed as evidence of retreat helpful but not essential

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Williams (1987)

D grabbed and injured police officer mistakenly thought he was assaulting youth. CoA quashed D's assault conviction as jury had been directed mistake to be reasonable but it need only be honest

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Clegg (1995)

D was a soldier on check-point duty who fired bullets at passing car mistakenly, thinking it was terrorists, but last bullet killed joy-rider. D no self-defence as final bullet excessive force

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Martin (Anthony) (2002)

D shot and killed burglar as ran away and wounded other. D no self-defence, firing at person running away excessive force although had psychiatric condition and perceived greater danger than average person

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AO2 Discussion Points

- Difficult for a jury to put themselves in shoes of D to decide if force was necessary
- All-or-nothing defences can be difficult for juries
- The defence embodies competing moral principles
- There is a need to ensure that vigilante justice is not legitimised or encouraged 
- There are inconsistencies in deciding whether something is a pre-emptive strike
- Relevance, or otherwise, of psychiatric conditions is confusing and it is debatable whether someone feeling vulnerable can be expected to use only reasonable force
- On-going controversial discussion about householder rights of self-defence

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