This section offers guidance of general application to all offences susceptible to the defences of:
- self defence;
- defence of another;
- prevention of crime; and
- lawful arrest and apprehension of offenders.
Self defence and the prevention of crime originates from a number of different sources. Defence of the person is governed by the common law. Defence of property however, is governed by the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Arrest and the prevention of crime are governed by the Criminal Law Act 1967.
This guidance is particularly relevant to offences against the person and homicide, and prosecutors should refer to Offences against the Person, incorporating the charging standard, elsewhere in the legal guidance and Homicide, elsewhere in the legal guidance.
In the context of cases involving the use of violence, the guiding principle is the preservation of the Rule of Law and the Queen’s Peace.
However, it is important to ensure that all those acting reasonably and in good faith to defend themselves, their family, their property or in the prevention of crime or the apprehension of offenders are not prosecuted for such action. The CPS have published a joint leaflet with ACPO for members of the public making clear that if householders have acted honestly and instinctively and in the heat of the moment, that this will be the strongest evidence for them having acted lawfully and in self-defence. Prosecutors should refer to joint the CPS-ACPO leaflet – Householders and the Use of Force Against Intruders.
When reviewing cases involving assertions of self-defence or action in the prevention of crime/preservation of property, prosecutors should be aware of the balance to be struck:
- the public interest in promoting a responsible contribution on the part of citizens in preserving law and order; and
- in discouraging vigilantism and the use of violence generally.
There is often a degree of sensitivity to be observed in such cases; this is particularly important when the alleged victim of an offence was himself/herself engaged in criminal activity at the relevant time. For instance, a burglar who claims to have been assaulted by the occupier of the premises concerned.
When considering cases where an argument of self-defence is raised, or is likely to be raised, you should apply the tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, refer to the Code for Crown Prosecutors elsewhere in the legal guidance.
The guidance in this section should be followed in determining whether the Code tests have been met.
When considering the sufficiency of the evidence in such cases, a prosecutor must be satisfied there is enough reliable and admissible evidence to rebut the suggestion of self-defence. The prosecution must rebut self-defence to the criminal standard of proof, see Burden of Proof below.
If there is sufficient evidence to prove the offence, and to rebut self defence, the public interest in prosecuting must then be carefully considered.