Self-Defense in the UK

I left this in a comment at Say Uncle this morning in response to the assertion that “There is no right of self defense in the English law system. The use of force is solely the right of the Crown.”  I thought it would make a pretty decent post of its own, especially with the hyperlinks included.

OK, I’ve argued this question extensively. Here’s the deal:

In the UK, under the law you are permitted to use “reasonable force” to defend yourself or others.

Here’s the rub: Other people after the fact determine what was “reasonable” at the time of the incident.

Possession of anything “with the intent to threaten to cause injury or fear” is verboten – so if you pick up a baseball bat and stand outside your property as a deterrent to rioters, your intent is to “threaten to cause injury or fear” and you’re therefore guilty of being in possession of an “offensive weapon.”

Apparently you’re supposed to wait until you, personally are under physical attack before you can pick up anything with which to defend yourself, and then you are restricted in how you use that item to some “reasonable” level to be determined at some future time when the jurors can reflect calmly on the situation.

Further, as has been explained to the British public, the law does not require the intention to kill for a prosecution for murder to succeed. All that is required is an intention to cause serious bodily harm. That intention can be fleeting and momentary. But if it is there in any form at all for just a second – that is, if the blow struck was deliberate rather than accidental – you can be guilty of murder and spend the rest of your life in prison.

As a result, the Crown Prosecution Service can (and has) prosecuted people for merely possessing anything they consider to be an “offensive weapon” whether or not said “weapon” was ever displayed. They have prosecuted people, like the man who beat a burglar with a milk bottle, for “unreasonable” use of force. One man was acquitted not too long back of murdering a home invader with his shotgun when his defense was that the gun “accidentally discharged” as he was pointing it at the huge, steroid-enraged bodybuilder climbing through his second-floor window and verbally threatening to kill the homeowner. Since there was no intent, fleeting or momentary, he wasn’t guilty of murder, apparently, even though he had to unlock the gun cabinet, retrieve his shotgun, unlock the ammo cabinet, retrieve his ammo, load the gun, aim the gun, and put his finger on the trigger. All of that was “reasonable,” but pulling the trigger intentionally would have been an act not of self-defense, but of murder.

The result of these laws is that the act of defending yourself is legally risky. Even if you’re acquitted, it may cost you a fortune in legal fees, and you very well might go to jail. If you actively defend your property, the chances are very high that you will be prosecuted for – at a minimum – possession of an “offensive weapon” and “causing fear,” and you will most probably lose in court.

All of this has what has been referred to as a “chilling effect” on the willingness of the British populace to actively defend themselves. You’ll note in the stories coming out of the UK that the people doing the “vigilantism” are almost exclusively immigrants – mostly Turks and Sikhs. They haven’t had their self-reliance beaten out of them yet.

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