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Reasonable Force

The latest controversy (well at least one of the latest) to erupt here in New Zealand involves the case of a store owner defending himself against an attack from some teenage robbers – or at least they would have been robbers if he hadn’t defended himself and scared them off.

The attackers were armed with a knife but the shop owner retaliated with a bat and because of the resulting harm to the attackers he was charged by police. Yesterday he had the charges dropped after a depositions hearing in a district court but was that the correct outcome?

The vast majority of people seem to support his actions and many are criticising the police for even prosecuting him when they say he was clearly acting in self defence. The law allows reasonable force to be used in self defence and that’s the only fair approach although the problem is, of course, what “reasonable” force is.

Because its not always clear what is lawful in these situations I think the police were right to proceed with the prosecution. But I hope the court costs of the defence will be covered at least.

There are extreme views at both ends of the spectrum. Some think that killing the attackers would have been doing the world a favour whereas others (a small minority) seem to think using force, even in defence, isn’t justified at all. As is usually the case, both of these extremes are wrong and the existing law allowing reasonable force is clearly appropriate.

One person who commented said the youths were attacked from behind while they were running away. This might not be seen as self defence, but I haven’t seen any confirmation that it actually happened that way. If it did happen like that then it could easily be seen as going beyond reasonable force.

So it really gets back to the details of the individual case. Encouraging an environment where disproportionate retaliation is allowed would be counterproductive, first because it would escalate the level of violence, and second because it would encourage deliberate vigilante behaviour.

I think the police did the right thing in referring this case to the court and I think the court did the right thing in dropping it (although I would need to know the details to say that for sure). OK, so a bit of bureaucracy was required and that, no doubt, cost the tax payer, but I don’t think we should take shortcuts when it comes to dispensing justice.

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