Every person resident in the State is entitled to live in peace and to go about their business and other affairs in safety from threat and attack. Modern times have called for the introduction of legislation to outlaw the variety of assaults occurring daily in society. Without being sensationalist, people are being attacked on a daily basis. Indeed it is saddening to see that so-called minor attacks no longer make the news which only carries items about murders and people suffering life-changing injuries from unlawful violence.
The Irish law on assault and self-defence is covered in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. The offences that may be committed against a person vary in degree from a threat to do injury to the actual infliction of violence resulting in bodily injury. This legislation outlines what actually constitutes an assault and the levels of severity. It also outlines the position where an assault may be justified by self-defence.
The bedrock of the Hard Target Self Defence School is one of awareness. If we are aware of our environment and the people and things in it, we can identify potential danger and avoid it. If we cannot avoid it, we control and protect our personal space. These two key concepts of awareness and situational control (using the Fence) are 90% of what self-defence actually consists of.
But what is the legal position if we have to move to the next step on our Game Plan and defend ourselves with an appropriate technique from the Hard Target curriculum?
A person commits an assault if he, without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly
(1) directly or indirectly applies force or causes an impact on the body of another or (2) causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that they are likely immediately to be subjected to such force or impact (Section 2 NFOAP Act 1997). It is interesting to note that force is not limited to striking a person, but also includes applying heat, light, noise, electricity or other forms of energy in solid, liquid or gaseous form.
There are three levels of seriousness of assault. They are simple or common assault (Section 2), assault causing harm (Section 3) and assault causing serious harm (Section 4). The punishments increase as the seriousness of the assault rises. The level of assault is, counter intuitively, determined by the nature of the injuries caused by the assault and not the actions of the assault itself. A simple punch could end up in a more serious category than a simple assault based on the injuries sustained.
An assault, of any nature, may be justified if the person is protecting themselves or a member of their family from injury, assault or detention caused by a criminal act based on all the circumstances surrounding the incident (Section 18).
A number of other scenarios may also be justified, but the one mentioned above is what is commonly referred to as the self-defence justification. This defence is what is called an affirmative defence. This means that if a person charged with an assault and claiming self-defence must raise and support the claim with evidence. It is then up to the prosecution to disprove the defence beyond a reasonable doubt. In reality, the judge or jury will decide if the self-defence claim is valid.
In layman’s terms this means that an assault is striking a person or making them believe that they are going to be struck. A person is entitled to defend themselves if they are physically attacked or they reasonably believe that they are going to be attacked immediately. The person’s defence must be reasonable and proportionate to the level of aggression shown by the attacked and cannot descend into revenge if the upper hand is gained by the defender.
From a Hard Target Self Defence School point of view, if a person approaches us violently – posturing, threatening, closing down the distance between us and invading our personal space – they have committed an assault on us. An application of an appropriate technique from the Hard Target curriculum would be a response to an assault on us. In other words we are the injured party and are responding to an unprovoked attack. The purpose of our defence is to enable us to escape.
There are four concepts that are used in determining if police action is justified. They do not apply to civilians but are useful to consider if an action is lawful.
• Is the action lawful? Yes if I have been assaulted.
• Is the action necessary? Yes to escape from the attacker.
• Is the action proportionate? Yes to escape e.g. choke hold.
• Is my action necessary? Yes to survive.
If you are attacked and forced to defend yourself, your first action after you have escaped are to call an ambulance for the attacker and to report that you have been assaulted to the police. Remember, you are the victim. The police will investigate all the circumstances of the incident.
Please note that above is an interpretation of the available legislation and practice. If in doubt advice should be sought from a reputable criminal law solicitor.
For more information on classes and seminars visit www.hardtargetselfdefence.com
By Steven Meighan, 1st Dan HTSDS Instructor, Garda Sergeant