I have been in communication with an Open University lecturer who wrote an article recently about the laws relating to self-defence. He states that these laws are plain, simple and reasonable.
I said to him that issues such as perceptual distortion, non-insane automatism, fear, panic, the autonomic nervous system (known as fight or flight)and not knowing where an incident is going to end, make these laws far from plain, simple and reasonable.
If the defendant fails to convince a jury that he/she acted in self-defence born out of fear, the chances are, the jury will convict. This puts an unusual burden on the defence case, which conflicts with the law as it states that the burden of proof must lie with the prosecution. In other words, the prosecution must prove the guilt of the defendant. The reality with self-defence is that responses to violent assaults will vary and so the state of mind of the defendant is crucial and the act is less relevant. How can a prosecutor prove state of mind?
I was punched about the head and face and was in genuine fear for my safety. The man was growling at me and he held onto my clothing as the punches rained in. I felt a tooth break up in my mouth and I could taste blood. All the time, the punches kept coming. This blog cannot portray the level of my fear I felt at this point. When I eventually broke free I used force to defend myself from a further assault. I was frightened and my automatic responses were activated. I needed to stop this man there and then. He’d ripped the shirt from my back and I was bleeding. Can members of the jury ever know what was going through my mind? Are they sure (as they have to be) that I acted with malice with pre-determined desire to assault my assailant. In the few seconds gap, I have always maintained that I didn’t have time to form a criminal intent let alone the desire.
My uninjured assailant was given community service for assaulting me and I was sent to prison for the use of force on him. This is an area of law which is far from plain, simple and reasonable. With the greatest will in the world, members of the jury are not adequately equipped to make accurate judgements in such cases. Any mishandling of the evidence will ultimately lead to innocent people being convicted of offences they have not committed.