Is the UK Parliament about to bolster the law on self-defence with a British version of the US “stand your ground” law implicated in the killing of Trayvon Martin? There is no doubt that the Prime Minister’s commitment to the Big Society would be boosted if he could recruit an army of volunteers willing to bring down criminals by private intervention – and bring down the crime rate too.
So here is clause 149 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill [now Section 148 of the newly passed Act] which says that when assessing whether the degree of force used by a defendant claiming “private defence” (self-defence, defence of another or prevention of crime) was reasonable:
“a possibility that [he or she] could have retreated is to be considered (so far as relevant) as a factor to be taken into account, rather than as giving rise to a duty to retreat”.
Compare the Florida law cited by Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, which says:
“a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if … he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
The new UK provision establishes that if you are attacked and fight back, you do not have to prove you first turned and ran to avoid the attack: you can stand your ground and defend yourself.
Now, most people when faced with a weapon-wielding crazy-man intent on doing serious physical harm would, in fact, retreat – and retreat as far and as fast as possible. But not in the Wild West Big Society have-a-go-hero fixated minds of the proponents of “stand your ground”. Instead it goes something like this: a swift upper-cut to the chin of the villain of the piece; a neat move to pinion him to the floor with a hand to the throat; the other hand pressing the cold barrel of a Colt 44 to his temple; give him over to the custody of the sheriff; get the girl in the final reel.