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How to legally defend yourself against an attacker

Introduction

The law protects your right to defend yourself, your property and others from attack. But it is important to know how much force you are entitled to use or you may find yourself facing criminal charges.

How much force am I entitled to use?

The general rule is that you are entitled to use a reasonable degree of force to protect yourself and the people around you. What is a reasonable degree is measured in proportion to the force or threatened force that you are faced with. This means that you cannot injure your attacker if he or she is retreating, nor continue to apply force if it goes past the point of defence and becomes instead an act of retaliation or revenge.

Contact the Police

You should contact the Police as soon as possible after the attack. You will need to give them full details of the incident so that the attacker can be charged.

How do I establish "self-defence" if I'm charged with assault?

If the Police believe that you used too much force in defending yourself you may be charged with assault. If this occurs, the defence of self-defence is available to you, in which case the issue will be whether the force you used was reasonable in the circumstances as you believed them to be.

In other words, the court will consider your subjective view of the attack or threatened attack, and assess what action would have been reasonable in the circumstances as you saw them. The relevant circumstances will include any opportunity to retreat without using force.

The force you used must have been in defence, but it can also be pre-emptive force.

Cautionary notes
  • If you are charged with an offence after attempting to defend yourself or someone else, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will help you to present your view of the events and assist you through the court procedure (see How to: Facing criminal charges).


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