“The most realistic self defence system in the UK today”
Self-defence is an inalienable right in the UK recognised in common law. As practicing Kravists you hope that you will never have to use your self-defence skills in the real world, but it is reassuring to know that you have them in your toolbox if you need them. Something else of almost equal value in your toolbox is a sound understanding of the legal framework that enables you to use your skills legitimately and legally in your own self-defence or the defence of others.
This a laymans view of the law relating to self defence. Nothing in this article is intended as legal advice, it is our opinion on the law as relating to self defence in the UK.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service website a legal framework exists to ensure that:
“those acting reasonably and in good faith to defend themselves, their family, their property or in the prevention of crime or the apprehension of offenders are not prosecuted for such action.
The legal framework for self-defence is governed by:
“Defence of the person is governed by the common law. Defence of property is governed by the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Arrest and the prevention of crime are governed by the Criminal Law Act 1967.”
“Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 provides clarification of the operation of the existing common law and statutory defences” particularly around use of reasonable force.
You do not need to know these laws in detail, just that they provide the legal framework for self-defence in the UK. What you do need to know as responsible Kravists’ is what this legal framework allows you to lawfully do in a self-defence situation and how these laws may be applied in a Court of Law should you find yourself being held to account for your actions.
Self-defence is an inalienable right in the UK recognised in common law, the accumulated wisdom of the courts as expressed in decided cases. This includes the right for a person to use reasonable force to:
(a) Defend him/herself from an attack.
(b) Prevent an attack on another person.
(c) Defend his/her property.
In addition, s3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides that:
“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.”
According to the College of Policing, the law does not require persons to wait until there has been an assault before they take action, as confirmed by Lord Griffiths in Beckford v The Queen  AC 130:
“A man about to be attacked does not have to wait for his assailant to strike the first blow, or fire the first shot, circumstances may justify a pre-emptive strike.”
This is a key point to understand, if you believe that you are being threatened and are about to be attacked it is lawful to act first. Seizing the initiative in a street attack situation is a fundamental principle of Krav Maga. One of the best ways to do that is to identify a trigger movement or behaviour, that if demonstrated by your would-be attacker during the pre-attack phase, would prompt you to act pre-emptively and strike first.
So long as you truly believe that you are in danger and about to be attacked yourself your actions are lawful and defendable in Court. Remember, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to prove that you did not act in self-defence rather than for you to prove that you did.
The use of reasonable force is the perhaps the most important point a Kravist needs to understand. The legal framework outlined above make clear that the law allows only reasonable force to be used in self-defence. If excessive force is used, then this indicates that you acted unreasonably in the circumstances, and there will be no valid defence in the eyes of the law.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service:
“In assessing the reasonableness of the force used, prosecutors should ask two questions:
- 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?”
However, what is reasonable has to be judged in the light of the circumstances as you believed them to be (whether reasonably or not). This is another important point to understand, even if your reasons were later found to not be reasonable, so long as you genuinely believed them to be reasonable at the time, that is enough unless your mistaken belief was as a result of your wilful intoxication. In this case, your mistake may not be accepted by law. More about that later.
Again, according to the Crown Prosecution Service:
“The courts have indicated that both questions are to be answered on the basis of the facts as the accused honestly believed them to be.
To that extent it is a subjective test. There is, however, an objective element to the test. The jury must then go on to ask themselves whether, on the basis of the facts as the accused believed them to be, a reasonable person would regard the force used as reasonable or excessive.
It is important to bear in mind when assessing whether the force used was reasonable the words of Lord Morris in (Palmer v R 1971 AC 814);
“If there has been an attack so that self-defence is reasonably necessary, it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary, that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken …”
Despite this judgement, it is worth remembering that just because an act is deemed necessary does not mean that the resulting action was reasonable if it was deemed not be proportionate to the level of threat.
A proportionate response is defined as one that is justified by the level of harm that would be suffered if the force was not used. So, for example, if you were attacked in the street by an unarmed individual and you pulled out a knife and seriously wounded or killed him then, although it might be viewed necessary to defend yourself from an attack, the level of force that you applied was not proportionate with the threat and is unlikely to be viewed as being reasonable in the eyes of the law.
The same rule would apply if you went too far during the act of defending yourself. A good rule of thumb is to stop your combatives and disengage as soon as the threat has been neutralised. Or put another way, when your attacker no longer poses a threat because you have incapacitated him.
So, if you were attacked in the street and forced to defend yourself and in so doing you knocked your attacker out then that would be the time to disengage. It would no longer be reasonable or proportionate to continue to attack the individual with combatives because he is unable to defend himself and therefore no longer poses a threat to you.
Remember that the key point is to stop combatives and disengage as soon as your attacker no longer poses a threat to you.
Intoxication and Self Defence
It is well known that alcohol impairs judgement and can lead to the drinker wrongly interpreting words and actions as threatening. A drunken person may act violently, mistakenly believing himself to be under attack when he isn’t. In this case, the mistake, however genuinely believed, is not accepted by law as a defence against criminal charge.
You cannot claim you acted in self-defence when it is proven you were mistaken and your mistaken belief, no matter how genuinely held at the time, was as a result of your wilful intoxication. This is a very important legal distinction worth remembering.
A duty to retreat
A Duty to Retreat
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, if you are attacked or threatened you do not have to retreat (leave) in order to prove you acted in self-defence if attacked subsequently:
“Failure to retreat when attacked and when it is possible and safe to do so,is not conclusive evidence that a person was not acting in self-defence. It is simply a factor to be taken into account rather than as giving rise to a duty to retreat when deciding whether the degree of force was reasonable in the circumstances (section 76(6) Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008). It is not necessary that the defendant demonstrates by walking away that he does not want to engage in physical violence.”
So, as a practical example, if you were in a bar having a drink and someone came up to you and verbally threatened you and told you to leave or there will be consequences you do not have to leave in order to demonstrate that you are doing everything you can to prevent an altercation occurring. Although that might actually be the sensible thing to do.
If an attack was to follow because you had not left the bar your right to self-defence is not diminished because you were threatened earlier and chose not to leave when you could, as you have every right to be there in the eyes of the law.
Self Defence at Home
The same legal framework applies to your right to self-defence in your home, but the degree of force used can be greater in certain circumstances according to Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The Crown Prosecution Service states that:
“Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 Subsection (5A) allows householders to use disproportionate force when defending themselves against intruders into the home… where the case is one involving a householder the degree of force used by the householder is not to be regarded as having been reasonable in the circumstances as the householder believed them to be if it was grossly disproportionate. A householder will therefore be able to use force which is disproportionate but not grossly disproportionate.”
Be careful though, this provision does not give householders a license to use disproportionate force in every case they are confronted by an intruder in their home. The level of force used must still be reasonable in the circumstances as the householder believed them to be and will be tested at court.
Summary – 8 Key Takeaways
- Self-defence is an inalienable right preserved in both the common and statute law.
- A person has the right to use reasonable force to:
- Defend him/herself from an attack.
- Prevent an attack on another person.
- Defend his/her property.
- Prevent crime.
- Effect or assist in the lawful arrest of offenders, suspected offenders or persons unlawfully at large
- You do not have to wait to be struck first to defend yourself. If you genuinely believe that you are being threatened and are about to be attacked it is lawful to act first.
- The law allows only reasonable force to be used in self-defence. If excessive force is used, then this indicates that you acted unreasonably in the circumstances and there will be no valid defence in the eyes of the law.
- Reasonable force is tested by whether it was deemed necessary and whether it was reasonable or proportionate. A proportionate response is one that is justified by the level of harm that would be suffered if the force was not used.
- What is reasonable is judged in the light of the circumstances as you believed them to be (whether reasonably or not). If your reasons were later found to not be reasonable so long as you genuinely believed them to be at the time you acted, then that is enough to satisfy the court.
- The exception to point 6 is if your actions were proven to be unreasonable and you were intoxicated. The mistake, however genuinely believed, is not accepted by law as a defence against criminal charge as a result of your wilful intoxication.
- If threatened you do not have to leave the premises because you have the opportunity to do so, you have every right to be there so if you are subsequently attacked and forced to defend yourself, you are still acting in self-defence.
Finally, please note that this article has been written in good faith as a guide to Kravists. It is based on my understanding and interpretation of the law but as I am not legally trained, the reader should always seek legal advice from a suitably qualified individual for a definitive legal position.