No study of self defence or CQC is complete without a study of self defence law and the law of violence in whatever country you practice – and live – in. A fluid understanding of the law and its processes will not only help to keep you from falling foul of it, but will also help you to make good moral and responsible decisions about your use of force and question your decisions ahead of time to be sure you are acting in defence of self, not defence of ego. In the following brief summation, we’ll look at the offences of violence in the United Kingdom, and their Statutory Defences. Then we’ll look at provisions in UK self defence law and talk about how you should apply them to your Krav Maga training in Swindon, or wherever it is that you train.

The word assault is widely misunderstood. In UK law, assault has nothing to do with putting hands on someone. The charge of assault has a different definition:

Common Assault, Contrary to Section 39, Criminal Justice Act 1988

“Any act where a person intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence”

From this simple definition come the following key points.

Assault has occurred where one person’s actions – be they words, gestures or whatever – result in another person believing that immediate and unlawful violence is about to occur against them.

The violence threatened must be immediate and possible immediately. Were A to threaten B verbally from the other side of a busy motorway, the threat would not be immediate and an assault would not have occurred. However, if the threat were made stood next to B, then that would constitute an assault. Further, future threats are not assaults – “I’m going to beat your head in next week” is not immediate and therefore not an assault.

No physical contact is necessary for an assault to have occurred. All that is necessary is that one person is caused to believe that they are about to be the victim of violence.


Battery is the physical component of an attack, and the charges of Assault and Battery generally come together. Battery is where an actual physical attack has occurred that occasions “superficial injuries.” More serious injuries would result in the more serious charges detailed later in this article.
Injuries that would constitute Battery:

Minor Bruising
Superficial cuts
Not requiring stitching
Black eye

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) – Section 47 Offences against the Person Act 1861

ABH is basically the same as assault and battery, except that the nature of sustained injuries are more severe. Typical injuries that might result in a charge of ABH:
Loss or breaking of tooth
Cuts requiring stitching
Multiple areas of bruising

Unlawful Wounding/Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm – Section 20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861

As ABH, but with more serious injuries. Here’s some examples from the CPS page:

Permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement
Broken or displaced limbs or bones, including fractured skull, compound fractures, broken jaw or ribs
Serious loss of blood, usually necessitating transfusion or lengthy treatment or incapacity
Serious psychiatric injury (subject to expert witness).

Self Defence Law – Statutory Defence against the Charges of Assault and Battery, ABH and GBH

Self Defence law is simple enough. Self defence appears in UK law in a number of places, starting with the Common Law. As a student of self defence, you owe it to yourself to have a solid understanding of self defence law and to know your place within it. Ignorance of the law is never a defence against it and understanding what follows is the best way to ensure that, should the worst happen, your actions will fall within ethical and legal boundaries.

The Crown Prosecution Service offer a guidance to Self Defence and the Law (Link Below) that gives the following reassurance and guidance:

The basic principles of self-defence are set out in (Palmer v R, [1971] AC 814); approved in R v McInnes, 55 Cr App R 551:
“It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.”

The key wording is in the last clause: “What is reasonably necessary.” Indeed, there are three measures that will help you to decide if the level of force you use is lawful:

Reasonable – In the situation of an attack against your person, the force you use must be reasonable in the circumstances as you believed them to be.
Proportionate – The force you use must be proportionate to the attack as you believed it to be.
Necessary – The force used must be the minimum amount necessary to successfully stop the attack as you believed it to be.

Clearly there are issues here. The test of Reasonable Force is a subjective one. However, the CPS guidance continues with the following reassurance:
(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 …”

What this means:

Before you use force to defend yourself, you must have the reasonable belief that you are about to be attacked and that the force you use must be reasonable relative to the circumstances as you honestly believe them to be.

Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 clarified the Common Law by saying that the question of whether the degree of force used was reasonable or not must be decided based on the circumstances as you believed them to be.

In simpler terms, it is your belief about the circumstances that matters, not the fact. You could have been mistaken about the imminent attack, and still be justified, if you held an honest belief that the attack was imminent.

The more unreasonable your belief, the less likely it will be that a jury will find in your favour. Remember, you’re asking other people – the CPS and then, if necessary, a jury – to put themselves in your shoes and ask themselves if they would have done the same.

Pre-emptive Striking and the Law

Striking first is not unlawful. There is no law against pre-emptive striking. However, it is unlawful to seek out and start a violent confrontation so you will need to show that you did not seek out the confrontation and did not wish it to occur, as well as then showing that you had the honest belief that your subsequent actions were necessary to prevent an attack that was, in your honestly held belief, inevitable.

Life v Ego – Did you Act to Defend Life, or Ego?

Self defence law gives you the right to use force in the defence of life and well being. It is a lawful act when faced with a genuine threat to your health or life by the violent attack of another person. It is not lawful self defence to act in defence of ego. It is a moral and legal imperative that you ensure you can tell the difference – many can’t in the heat of the moment.

Picture this: you’re in a bar and someone cuts in front of you in line. You complain and the person squares up and says ‘What the fuck you going to do about it?’ If you answer this challenge – and it is a challenge, not a threat – you are acting in defence of ego. The violence that follows is unnecessary, and unlawful. In answering you like this, the aggressor is clearly stating a willingness to be violent. He is offering an invitation to engage in violence. You do not need to accept. You do not need to engage. Engaging in this circumstance is not necessary for the defence of life. Further, it is unlawful.

This is a hard thing for many people – particularly men – to accept. But you must get your head around it and the better trained you are, the more responsibility you have to get your head around it. If you’ve never been in a fight, please learn from the experience of the unfortunate people who have. There’s one thing that can be worse than getting a beating and that’s coming out on top. There are no winners in violence, especially if your actions were not just and the violence wasn’t necessary. In the scenario above, even if you escalate this particular argument and it becomes violent and you win, you will then have to deal with potential and likely criminal charges, the long wait for court and sentence, civil suits for damages, the fear of repercussion or reprisal, and the emotional consequences of having seriously harmed or killed another human being, over what? A place in a queue? When you look at it this way it’s clear to see how preposterous is it, how ridiculous. And that’s violence. Ridiculous. Stupid. Unnecessary. So much of violence – social violence – is just that, unnecessary; it’s a defence of the ego, not a defence of life. Be sure that you know the difference.

Experienced people such as violence professionals (security, law enforcement, military) will tell you, in a situation like this you walk away and you laugh because you know that, far from losing face, you’ve spared him, and yourself, so much pain and stress and grief, and in moments the situation is forgotten. You go back to your friends or your beer or your meal, happy because you know the hell you just walked away from.

If someone asks you if ‘you got a problem?’ or ‘You want a problem?’ the correct answer is NO. Remember that pre-emptive striking – and force in self defence law – is only lawful if an assault has occurred. Sure, assault is just the apprehension of immediate violence – you don’t have to wait until there’s a physical element to that assault – but there must be present such actions to cause you apprehension of immediate and unlawful violence, in the wording of the law. Yes, someone asking you if you want a problem will very likely lead to an attack if you let it, but it isn’t a certainty yet – you can’t safely argue that at that point the threat of attack was immediate (unless there are further circumstances such as intense adrenalisation or violence signals from the aggressor, presence of weapons or more people engaging, moving and flanking). In other words, it’s a tough sell to the CPS, police, or a jury of your peers that you couldn’t have done something to avoid the violence, and it is likely that your belief that violence was immediate and inevitable wasn’t reasonable in the circumstances as you believed them to be. At that point there are still options. You can de-escalate. De-engage. Or at the very least fall into the Fence and your Conflict Escalation Protocols: control the distance and use verbal fence (‘leave me alone.’ Or ‘Back away’). If they close the distance after that, forcing you to push them back, then there is emergent justification for use of force – legal and moral justification is becoming present and easier. You are giving them the chance to make the right choice, and if you later have to hit, you are giving yourself the best chance of having solid, moral and legal justification for the use of force – you did everything you could to avoid the violence. You are working with every second, every attempt at de-escalation, towards proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that an attack was coming and that you acted out of necessity. But you must ask yourself in every circumstance, could you walk away at this point? Are there door staff ten metres away you could go to? If there is any chance of any other resolution, without undue danger to yourself, you must take it, otherwise you are acting in defence of ego, not in defence of life, and your actions are at the least immoral, and at the worst unlawful.

Consider these questions for yourself, in your own time, and don’t let the first time you think about it be when you’re faced with a real attacker. And remember, it’s not self-defence if you’re defending your ego.

We’ll consider more scenario examples and good training protocols to keep yourself on the right side of self defence law in further articles.

Will Bayley – BKMA Graduate Instructor, Krav Maga Swindon, Krav Maga North Bristol, Bristol University Krav Maga Society

Basics and Desensitisation – Our advice on preparing yourself for violence
Crown Prosecution Service – Offences Against the Person
Crown Prosecution Service – Self Defence

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