Friday, May 14, 2004

An unusual request

Rather alarmingly, there's been a spate of recent attacks by a knife-weilding cyclist at night out on Jesus Green.

Quite a few warnings have gone round about not walking across poorly lit parks at night, even, it would seem, in company.

It was nonetheless a bit of a surprise to get an e-mail (through a list) today from another international student, a rather muscularly ethical and community-spirited chap it would seem.
I was wondering if any one would be able to enligten me about what laws here say about knocking out/down the attacker (such as the man-on-little-bike) if (1) i see him attacking other people (2) when i am certain that he is the bad guy and he is going to attack me, but before he has actually attacked me (which would mean it won't YET be a self defence)

I thought about it, and then bit. After all, he's a great guy, very sincere and a keen cricketer. The consequences of him being injured in any altercation would be awful.

He's the only member of the college team who can bowl.

Or bat.

Indeed, he's generally our only hope in the grudge-match against Jesus (the college, not the son of good, prophet or nice chap in sandals depending on your views). Jesus notoriously beat the Hall in a graduate cricket game when they showed up drunk last year.

And continued drinking, throughout the game.

Our team was, rather awfully, sober, trying to the best of their ability and - in the event - soundly thrashed.

Anyway, this was my reply:
I'm not a UK lawyer, but from my undergraduate criminal law classes I suspect:

(1) if you see him actually attacking other people, you could step in "in defence of others" - hitting him would be no problem.

(2) if you are certain it's the bad guy (he's cycling towards you, acting threatening and waving a knife) punching him should be fine in self-defence.

The law is usually that you may use "reasonable" force in self-defence (or defence of others), and that's why no-one could give you 100% water-tight legal advice in advance.

If he comes at you with a knife, using your fists (lesser force) is reasonable.

If he is only standing there, yelling, making threats, but not actually doing anything - then attacking with fists (even if he has a knife) is not reasonable.

I have no idea whether the law would think striking back with a cricket bat against a knife-weilder was reasonable, but as this is England it could well be OK.

In the end police take a common-sense approach, and this cyclist is not very popular.

Again, this is only a rough outline to the law, not legal advice.

He's since told me: "thanks, that's helpful."

Glad my skills could be of use ...

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