Pre-emptive striking is one of those things that causes me some confusion in relation to self-defence and the law. There has been a lot of talk about it recently in the blogosphere – see: Should a practitioner use the pre-emptive strike for self-defence? And, Mind the Gap – Part V – The Law – a follow up.
Pre-emptive striking IS admissible in law (UK) as a form of self defence “…if [they] honestly believe that the circumstances demand it. This means that a person can use force if they believe that there is a threat of imminent violence if they do not act first.” Louise Smith, Barrister.
My question is – how ‘pre’ (in terms of time, distance and circumstance) can a pre-emptive strike be and still be a legally acceptable defence? People talk about the attack being ‘imminent’ but how imminent do they mean? Within half a second? A few seconds? Half a minute?
There seems to be a continuum which goes from attack through to pre-emptive strike to counter-attack depending on the timing of your strike. Strike after a punch or kick is coming towards you (whether it hits you or not) and you are counter-attacking. Strike before any punch comes your way and you are attacking. Or are you?
Take the following scenarios, read them and ask yourself whether the ‘victim’ became the attacker or merely launched a pre-emptive strike that could be proved admissible in court:
1. You are a woman, it’s late at night and you are walking home alone. A man approaches you out of the shadows. He seems fairly relaxed in his body language with his hands in his pockets. He tries to talk to you, to detain you but he doesn’t touch you or take his hands out of his pockets. He smells of drink and you feel uncomfortable in his presence. He is invading your personal space and you feel threatened. You try to walk away but he follows you, still talking to you. You are between him and a wall and you feel penned in even though you can still walk along the street. Ahead the building juts out into the street creating a corner that you can be trapped into. You are confused as to whether he is just a harmless old drunk just trying to talk to you or a predator who has a knife in his pocket. You start to panic as you approach the corner and decide to strike him to give yourself a couple of seconds to run off. Is this an attack or a pre-emptive strike?
2. You are a young man, its broad daylight and you are in a public place with other people about. A group of 3 youths approach you and start to taunt you. You recognize one from school days – you had been on the receiving end of his punch in the playground once. They are laughing at you and reminding you what a ‘nerd’ you were at school. You feel threatened and humiliated. They jostle around you and you keep moving backwards. The only place to run to is an alleyway directly behind you but you know it has a dead end. You are worried that you might be on the receiving end of that punch again so to get away you decide to barge directly through them using a shoulder charge. As you charge you think you feel someone grab the back of your coat and you turn and strike the person you think it is. You then run away. Was the shoulder charge an attack, pre-emptive strike or neither? What about the strike?
I don’t find it easy to decide the answers to my own questions regarding these scenarios. Perhaps you can give me your opinion or your definition of a pre-emptive strike….
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.