Crime CXI – Self Defense I

Self defense is an entrenched common law defense. A person may use reasonable force to:-

  1. Stop/prevent an attack on himself or herself

  2. Stop/prevent an attack on another person see R v Duffy (1967)

  3. Stop/prevent and attack on his or her property see R v Hussey (1924)

The type of force that is to be used or that is allowed is reasonable force and what amounts to reasonable force is a question of fact for the court or the jury to decide after taking into account all the evidence that is available.

In Moriarty v Brookes (1834) a publican tried to evict a customer who was causing a disturbance and refused to leave. The publican put his arm around the man’s shoulders and tried to evict the man and in doing so injured him below the eye (there was a cut in the skin which resulted in bleeding).

‘If the violence which occurred took place in an endeavor by the defendant to turn the plaintiff out of the house, the third plea is proved. However, this plea does not profess to justify any wounding; therefore, if there was a wound, the plaintiff is entitled to recover for that. It is proved that the plaintiff was cut under the eye, and that it bled; and I am of opinion that, that is a wound.’

The publican was found guilty and was deemed to have used too much force or excessive force.

In R v Hussey (1924) the defendant who was behind on his rent barricaded himself in his room when the landlady and her accomplices came knocking on his door threatening to unlawfully evict him. He fired a shot from his gun and the bullet went through the door and the landlady was injured. The defendant was tried and acquitted of causing bodily harm and according to the verdict the defendant was in the same position as a man who was trying to protect his home and therefore was entitled to use reasonable force – Lord Hewart CJ.

In R v Duffy (1967) the defendant was justified in using reasonable force to defend her sister not because they were siblings but because “there is a general liberty as between strangers to prevent a felony”.

As per s.3 of the Criminal Law Act (1967) a person may also use reasonable force to prevent a crime and to assist in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders. The act reads as follows:-

(1) 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.

(2) Subsection (1) above shall replace the rules of the common law on the question when force is used for a purpose mentioned in the subsection is justified by that purpose.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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