Reasonable In The Circumstances

What does ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ actually express? On a legal and moral standpoint, the whole issue of defending oneself is dramatically affected by this statement. With most people, only the legal aspects are considered, usually after the fact. At some time in your life, regardless what system or style you train in, there is a distinct possibility that you may need to protect yourself.

The contemplated implications of defending yourself can, and often do, cause a critical pause in the reaction process. This delay will likely prove extremely costly in the overall outcome of an altercation, usually with you being the victim of a rather odious assault. If too much time is given to contemplating the legalities of your defensive actions, then you are effectively gambling with your personal well-being, the ultimate stake being your very life. The clarity of this subject is of an ambiguous nature to say the least. It is my intention to help define some of the issues connected with the subject.

The law, according to Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act (1967), states, ‘A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances, in the prevention of crime.’ If we dissect this statement and look at the definitions of individual words within it, then it becomes evident as to how much ‘play’ there is within the law.

(i)¬†force, the Oxford Popular definition is:- ‘intense effort; use force upon, especially in order to get or do something; impose; produce by effort’. If we look at the word ‘impose’. The dictionary meaning for this is, ‘inflict’ which in turn means ’cause (a blow, penalty etc); to be suffered.

(ii)¬†reasonable, the definition being:- ‘in accordance with; not extreme or excessive; logical.’

(iii)¬†circumstances, the meaning for this is;- ‘occurrence or fact’, the further definition of occurrence is, ‘occurring; incident; event.’ Then taking the meaning for ‘incident’ which is;- ‘event, especially one causing trouble.’

Each definitional breakdown gives you an idea of how the meaning can be ‘bent’ to suit various situations. So another way of writing this law could be to say ‘a person is allowed to inflict, without being excessive, the necessary blow(s) to stop a crime happening.’ Although both statements mean exactly the same thing, the second one gives quite a different impression. Although I don’t want this text to just be a documentation of the judicial practises regarding self defense, an outline of the legitimate boundary is necessary.

It is imperative that you do not take the term ‘self defense’ literally. The common interpretation of defense is in a negative light. It is considered to be the action taken after the attack has been launched. In the majority of martial arts systems, self defense techniques are taught on a ‘block and counter’ format. This ideology is dangerous. To wait for someone to throw a random technique at close range and then expect to competently deal with it is totally unrealistic. It would be more luck than judgement to block a directed strike. When ‘learning’ self defense in a club or dojo, (in the majority) everything is done in a rehearsed fashion, usually with just one or two strikes directed at preset target areas. Even when done this way, when executed at full speed, many people experience difficulties blocking the incoming techniques. Now, considering that the sequence and targets are already known, then surely it’s clearly visible how dangerous it is to expect to block and counter an unknown technique. To emphasise this fact more, you should remember that an antagonist will not be throwing just one or two strikes, his/her attack is likely to be carried out in a ‘frenzy’. Myself, along with other ‘realists’, don’t recommend this sort of strategy.By understanding the ritual of attack, defensive measure are made available to you at the earliest opportunity. This will allow you to either avoid the ensuing danger, which whenever possible should always be your primary intention, or give you the opportunity to adopt a pre-emptive strategy (more about that later).

The definition of reasonable force is dictated by you. It is what you feel is required to maintain your personal safety. On a moral level, if you are employing a physical response, you must feel totally justified that your actions are necessary. This will also prove valuable if any legal proceedings are to be taken against you. If an antagonist is threatening you with violence, accompanying it with aggressive behaviour, then your response has to be effective, but remain appropriate and justifiable. If we take the same example, but with the addition of one or more assailants, then the force you will need to exert in dealing with the original attacker will be greater by comparison, because of the elevated risk. Another way of looking at it would be, if when managing a single adversary, you may administer force in the form of a kick to the groin and a punch to the jaw to suppress the assault. If, however, this person is accompanied by one or more ‘colleagues’, then the necessary effort required to subdue an assault would have to be of a more serious and intensive nature, even to the extreme of administering what can be considered as ‘actual bodily harm’. It is imperative that your initial ‘problem’ is unable to continue his/her assault. Also by employing the same tactics as the previous example will do little to deter the remaining antagonists. If one or more of the attackers were brandishing a weapon of some nature, then it would be an arguable case that ‘force, reasonable in the circumstances, was used in your attempt to preserve your personal safety, because you had the honest belief you were in considerable danger’, even if this was to result in the death of your antagonist. When engaged in an incident, you cannot predict the intentions of your aggressor(s). What may begin as trivial predicament can soon escalate into a vicious assault. Handling a situation too tenderly can invite more sinister motives.

I’m not advocating killing someone just because they have attacked you. Having said that, it may be that, in a given situation you feel that the only way to maintain your well-being is to exert such damage that the outcome is a fatal one (for the attacker). Providing you are confident that all other possibilities were, either inappropriate or exhausted, then you will have justification on your side. This knowledge will allow you the confidence to face any consequences that may prevail. This philosophy is appropriate at any degree of violence – do whatever you consider is required to ensure your survival.

Within the realms of what most people perceive to be ‘self defense’, many will be inclined to be ‘re-active’ as opposed to ‘pro-active’ in their handling of a situation. As I have already mentioned this is a dangerous demeanour. It is vital that if a physical exchange is to occur, that you are the one to initiate it, by being ‘pre-emptive’. If you have mis-managed the build of a situation, or allowed it to get to a ‘face to face’, then it is highly likely that the only way you’ll resolve it is to strike first. For those of you who have never been involved in a real predicament, you may feel that this type of behaviour unnecessary or even unlawful. In reality, it will provide you with the vital advantage you will need to survive. Pre-emptive striking is legally permissible, providing that force deemed reasonable in the circumstances is executed. Also, even though being of firm mind, you were made to feel concern for your personal safety. I have, on the majority of occasions within my role as a Doorman, used a pre-emptive application as a means of controlling a situation. Even though I have many years Martial Arts experience, I wouldn’t even consider an attempt at ‘blocking and countering’. As far as I’m concerned, if someone is prepared to stand their ground, especially after the relative warnings have been given, then they must be prepared to ‘do battle’. Irrespective of size or shape (and in some cases gender), every antagonist should be treat equally, after all, a three foot tall, one legged midget can kill you if armed with a knife.

Periodically there has been Police involvement. When interviewed, I have maintained that appropriate provocation and cause were given, and that under the circumstances I felt concerned for my safety. Also, due to the other person’s aggressive and threatening behaviour, having exhausted all other possibilities, I felt I must strike first or risk what may entail a serious beating. Whenever appropriate, highlighting the danger that my aggressor was not alone, so I had no other choice but to consider their presence a threat. What you must remember is that, considering the fact that your antagonist is likely to have had a huge amount of Karma delivered via your pre-emptive actions, he/she will feel vengeful and therefore the probability exists that they will seek Police assistance in an attempt to further their aggravation, effectively trying to get them to finish off what they started. It’s important to think carefully about what you say in a taped Police interview. If your not certain on how to word your statement, then it would be wise to demand your rights and seek the advice of a good solicitor.

Due to an increasing number of today’s mindless attacks being executed with the use of a weapon, it is becoming the general opinion that every attack should be treated as though it was an armed one. This philosophy will undoubtedly alter the prescribed force used to overcome an assault. However, it is possible, with the correct type of knowledge, to maintain your personal safety and still remain within the boundaries of the law.

As a final note, any or every altercation you become involved in will be different, so it is impossible to rehearse every conceivable scenario. The way you perform, in those few scary moments, will be a result of a number of contributory factors. For example, your psychological structure, the motive of the attack, the number of assailants or possible victims, the way you feel at the time and what consequences you may reckon upon. These mental factors are all going to play a role in how you will behave on a physical level. Above all there is one thing for certain, you are ultimately responsible for your actions. If you decide that the best way to deal with it is to ‘curl up and take it’, then that’s your choice. You will be the one who has to live with that knowledge. Having said that, if you genuinely feel that it was best for you, then you’ll live comfortably with that fact (although many people it would appear, don’t feel at ease with the fact they did nothing to protect themselves). On the other hand, if your actions left your antagonist with serious injuries, then you would also have to face the consequences of those actions. It’s a discussion which could go on for ever. There will nearly always be a degree of doubt as to whether things could have been handled any different, that’s natural. There is a quote that I’m going to finish this article with (hope you don’t mind me pinching it Geoff), which in my opinion sum’s up this topic nicely. It is what I consider to be the epitome of what type of attitude should be adopted with regard to the subject of ‘reasonable force’. That quote is “It’s better to judged by twelve, than carried by six”. With that historic statement I’ll leave you to contemplate your own opinions.