“True courage is born only when it is accompanied by justice.”
If you haven't yet read part one of this post I would do that first. Read it here. This post is going to be a series of real cases which occurred in English law and an analysis of what happened - whether it was deemed self defence or not. Would you agree with the jury in these cases? Let me know in the comments bellow!
Regina v Gladstone Williams 1984:
Mr Williams while out walking witnessed a man assaulting a youth and rushed over to stop the attack and protect the youth. He was being dragged along the floor and was shouting for help. The force used by Mr Williams was appropriate, reasonable and necessary from his perspective. This would sound like self defence right? Well he was convicted of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) for his intervening actions however this was appealed and the convictions removed.
What actually happened was the youth had attempted to commit street robbery on a lady when the man had stepped in and restrained the youth (Although he also falsely claimed to be a policeman). Mr Williams had attacked the man who had stopped the mugging!
This was allowed as a reasonable mistake by Williams.
I would say that this is indeed an act of self defence as the mistake was an honest and reasonable one and that Williams acted in a way which was appropriate, especially as the man falsely pretended to be a police officer.
Regina v O'grady 1987
Ogrady was a prolific alcoholic, he and 2 of his friends had been drinking all day; consuming a large amount of alcohol between them. The 3 of them went back to Ogradys house and fell asleep. Ogrady was woken in the middle of the night by the victim who struck him over the head according to Ogrady. He then responded in defence by picking up glass which was nearby and striking him with it. He said he only recalled doing this a few times in order to defend himself but a fight developed and he was overcome. After the fight subsided he cooked them each a meal and went back to sleep.
Ogrady found the victim dead in the morning, he had 20 wounds to the face, severe bruising to the head, chest and brain. A fractured rib, and injuries to the hands as well as a fractured spine from his head being forced back. The cause of death was loss of blood and it was concluded that the strikes to the torso where from both sharp and blunt objects.
Ogrady was convicted of manslaughter which he appealed.
The appeal was held as Ogrady cannot claim self defence as a result of a mistake which was a consequence of voluntary intoxication.
Guilty – manslaughter
Ogrady may have initially acted in self defence however the victim suffered 20 cuts to the face which would suggest that this went beyond self defence or that he was so drunk that he couldn't have acted in self defence. Alcohol makes it much harder to act in self defence.
Beckford v The Queen 1987
This case didn't take place in the UK but is still an influential self defence case. Beckford was a police officer issued with a live shot gun in Jamaica. He and a number off other armed officers were sent to a house. It was alleged that the daughter of the house called the police and reported that her brother was armed and threatening their mother. This was denied by the daughter however.
Arriving at the house Beckford witnessed a male with an object which appeared to be a firearm running from the back of the house. Beckford claimed that the man fired his weapon towards the officers and he returned fire which killed the man. No gun was found.
Beckford was convicted of murder but appealed on the grounds that his belief enabled him to use such force necessary to prevent death or serious injury and that the belief didn't need to be reasonably held as long as it was honestly held.
Beckfords conviction was quashed as he honestly believed his life or the life of others was in danger and that he acted to prevent loss of life. This I would agree with as the circumstance is always subjective. However I'm not sure how honestly his belief could have been considering no offending firearm was found!
Regina v McGrath 2010
This fairly recent case saw McGrath and her boyfriend where drinking in celebration of their A level results. While out drinking they both consumed a large quantity of alcohol and became very drunk. After coming home together Mcrgrath’s boyfriend attacked her hitting, biting and spitting at her. McGrath went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife intending to scare the boyfriend. He became impaled on the knife. The Jury rejected her claim of self defence and was convicted of manslaughter.
McGrath appealed this saying that she was under real attack rather than believing she was under attack. The appeal found that this was indeed the case however the grounds for self defence where still not met and the conviction is held.
Guilty – manslaughter
It is hard to tell what actually happened in this case but from what was said the actions of McGrath was not proportionate to the threat and that there would've been other methods of avoiding the conflict. I believe she was entitled to use self defence but moving to the kitchen and stabbing the victim went too far.
Regina v Scarlett 1993
Scarlett was the owner of a pub who made the decision to remove a drunk member of the public from his pub. As he was ejected the patron tripped and fell and hit his head which resulted in his death. Scarlett was convicted of manslaughter for this which he appealed.
He appealed on the grounds that he had not used excessive force and so, his actions where lawful. This was agreed by the jury as no sufficient evidence that he was excessive could be found. His conviction was revoked.
Despite Scarlett not being under attack, I believe this to be a good example of justifying force. He acted lawfully and using reasonable force which was justified. It was unfortunate that the patron tripped and died but this was not the intention of Scarlett nor was it easily foreseeable.
Regina v Owino 1996
Owino, a senior microbiologist was convicted of injuring his wife. The injuries sustained by the woman included A black eye, a broken wrist, strikes to the head causing a damaged ear drum and throwing her from the house damaging her thumb. I don't know much about the cause of the altercation but it was deemed by the jury that his actions where not proportionate.
A person may only use such force as is (objectively) reasonable in the circumstances as he (subjectively) believes them to be. This means that the circumstances are to be considered from Owino believed but the reasonableness of his response should be judged by he jury. Even if he thought he was acting reasonably it would be a crime.
Regina v Bird 1985
Bird, a 17 year old girl hosting her birthday party at her parents house. This was crashed by her ex boyfriend and his new partner. After an argument Bird asked the ex boyfriend to leave the party. He did leave, but then returned later. Another argument started and Bird threw her drink at the boyfriend. He slapped her and pinned her against the wall. Bird claimed to punch him, forgetting she was holding an empty glass. The broken glasses caused the boyfriend to loose his eye and Bird was charged under the Offences Against the Person Act. She argued self defence but the jury convicted her as she didn't show a willingness to want to avoid violence.
Bird appealed this decision on the basis that she has no duty to retreat. The conviction was recalled.
Bird didn't retreat when she could have however this isn't a barrier to self defence. If she had retreated it would have been good evidence for her defence. It would have shown that she was being reasonable and didn't want to fight. Despite this she acted reasonably and proportionately. Self defence was granted.
Regina v Keane 2010
Another recent case, Keane has been out drinking in various pubs, in the last pub Keane went to he met a man who offered to drive him home. Keane accepted and on the way to Keanes house the driver stopped for petrol. While the driver was out of the vehicle another passenger, a young woman, lit a cigarette and began to smoke. Keane asked her not to as it was bad for her health to smoke. Keane became rude and aggressive and ended up pushing the woman to the floor.
The driver returned at this point and Keane thought he was going to be attacked so he struck the driver who fell back and hit his head on the floor. As a result of the drivers' serious injuries he had no recollection of the night and Keane was charged with Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). The judge said that self defence was not available as Keane was the one who started the aggression and provoked the attack. Keane appealed this charge unsuccessfully.
Guilty – GBH
When the person is the aggressor or provokes the other into attacking then self defence may not be available. Self defence is only a justification to be used if the person being provoked acts unreasonably and out of proportion to the initial provocation. For example, somebody attempting to stab you in response to you insulting them. In this case Keane may have genuinely believed he was going to be attacked by the driver but as he started the violence unlawfully he cannot rely on self defence.
A-G Reference Number 2 1983
The defendant in this case was a shop owner who owner a shop in the center of the riots in July 1981. On the night of the 11th and early morning of 12th July the man lost £1000 worth of goods and damage to his shop. Following the attack he remained in the shop with the intention to protect his shop from further losses. He stayed awake until the early hours of the morning on the 14th. He had constructed 10 petrol bombs in order to protect himself and his shop from further attacks. He was arrested for explosives offences.
He brought up the defence of self defence and was acquitted of any crime. This was considered self defence provided any weapon was destroyed as soon as the danger is no longer immediate.
I find this case interesting, it took me a while to get my head around it. I initially compared it to setting traps in your house on the off chance that it would capture an intruder (which isn't legal by the way). On the other hand I get it is self defence as the threat was imminent, it just also happened to be ongoing for days.
Regina v Clegg 1995
Not strictly a self defence case, but important nonetheless. Clegg was a soldier of the rank of private and serving in Northern Ireland in 1990. He was manning a checkpoint with other soldiers. 3 teenagers had stole a Vauxhall Astra and approached the checkpoint at speed. They showed no sign of stopping, accelerating and putting on the full beam headlights after being ordered to stop. Indeed the car drove through the checkpoint. The soldiers fired upon the car, 19 bullets in total. 4 of these came from Clegg. His last shot killed the passenger in the rear seat. The driver also died at the scene.
In 1993 Clegg was sentenced with life imprisonment for murder as it was deemed unlawful force. This is due to the car no longer being a threat to the soldiers as it was found that the last, fatal, bullet entered the back of the car.
Clegg appealed and had his conviction lessened to attempting to wound, this was decided as the last shot actually entered the side of the car, not the back.
Clegg continued to serve and progressed to become a combat medic for the parachute regiment.
Appeal – held
Clegg is different to the other cases as e felt he was doing his job rather than acting in anger or from intoxicants or in mistake. The House of Lords agreed that in this situation the murder charge should have been reduced to manslaughter but said this must come from parliament. Although Clegg’s appeal was successful, the take home message in terms of self defence is that you cannot continue your “defence” after no further threat is posed. You cant continue to batter an attacker after he is no longer a threat, whether that be running away or knocked to the floor or unconscious etc.
Another case from Jamaica; 3 people where being chased by 3 men from whom they had stole drugs from. They where armed with sticks and rocks. Palmer fired his gun at the men chasing him which killed one. Palmer said he was acting in self defence but the jury found him guilty of murder. The jury decided the scenario didn't warrant the force used by Palmer.
Palmer appealed on the grounds that, because he was acting in self defence the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. This was not successful. Self defence is an absolute defence – it either completely justifies actions or it is not successful at all. The charge cannot be mitigated, only overturned.
Guilty – Murder
The jury should take into account the actions of an instinctive and honest reaction of the victim however in this case, the jury decided that it was excessive. Palmer was unable to use self defence to mitigate the charge as it is an absolute defence, partial defences which can lessen the charge include loss of control. The all or nothing approach is sometimes criticized.
The Queen v Howe 1958
This last case is from 1958 Australia so isn't completely transferable but is a good example. Howe was drinking and was allegedly sexually assaulted by a man which Howe repelled. At this point there was a small fight between the 2 men. Howe ended by going to his car and taking a rifle and shooting the man dead at around 8 meters. The man had his back to Howe at the time, Howe also took the mans money from his wallet and discarded the wallet. Howe said that he shot the man as he felt he couldn't hold off another assault with his hands alone.
The jury found that Howe acted honestly in the circumstances however the force was excessive and unreasonable. Because of this he was charged with manslaughter as opposed to murder.
Guilty – manslaughter
This case took place in Australia but was still a demonstration of the objective force in the subjective circumstance issue. The jury should see the circumstance as felt by the defendant but the actions should be judged based on the objective reasonable force. In this case the jury found that Howe had acted honestly but it was still excessive in comparison to a reasonable person.
There are countless successful bids for self defence like the man who cut off the ear of an intruder with a samurai sword and many unsuccessfully cases like the brothers who hit a man with a cricket bat after he has tied up his family demanding a ransom.
The finer points of self defence have to be obeyed in order for it to be successful, it is the aim of the crown prosecution service to serve the public and protect them if they act honestly however this cannot be the case in all situations. Be sure to check out the self defence law post if you haven't yet had a look. And let me know if you agree with the jury in the cases above!
Remember, lawful, reasonable, proportionate and justifiable!