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  • Writer's pictureKeir Templeman-Young

What is Reasonable Force?

We often hear this phrase, but many are not completely confident with what it precisely means.

Firstly we must understand that what is reasonable for one person or in one situation will not always be reasonable for another.


Example 1: “Sarah is assaulted by a large male who attempts to grab hold of her, she strikes the attacker with her umbrella, he backs away”

Not Reasonable:

Example 2: “Matthew is assaulted by an elderly man who has dementia, the man tries to grab hold of him, Matthew is 6 foot 8, he strikes the man with his hand”

These two examples are very over-simplified, however whilst the narrative or the “incidents” are very similar, what is reasonable in one case is not reasonable in the other.

You have to consider the threat

In example 1 the aggressor was a large male and the victim was a young female.

In example 2 the aggressor was more fragile, confused and lacking in mental capacity and the “victim” was of big stature/strength.

The perceived risk is much greater in example 1, therefore the reaction to the attack is of higher intensity. In order to mitigate the risk posed the use of an object in this case could be deemed reasonable. However when analysing example 2, the risk posed is much lower and the size/strength of the victim should aid him to use a lower level of force. In this case striking the elderly man would not be proportionate to the perceived risk.

What is Proportionate Force?

In example 1 the lady may explain that she felt that the aggressor may overpower her had she not used the umbrella, and that due to his size she felt more at risk.

In example 2 the risk is much lower due to the age and mobility of the attacker, a proportionate response to this type of attack would have been to disengage and move away. It would be argued very easily that this level of force was excessive and not the most minimal option to hand.

What is Minimal Force?

Minimal force is using the lowest level or least restrictive technique to avert the immediate risk posed. It also means that you stop using that level of force as soon as it has been effective.

In example 1, if the man had fallen to the floor and the lady had continued to repeatedly strike him on the floor with her umbrella, this would not be deemed ‘minimal’. It would be argued that continuing to hit the aggressor once he no longer posed any immediate threat would not be strictly ‘necessary’.

What is Necessary Force?

Any force used must be deemed ‘necessary’, meaning that it was unavoidable, and that there was no option; other than to use it.

Under what circumstances may force be necessary?

  1. In the prevention of crime.

  2. To protect oneself, someone else or property.

  3. To protect an individual from causing themselves serious harm.


Providing you use force that is proportionate to the risk, minimal in nature, reasonable under the circumstances and strictly necessary, then you are completely justified in doing so.

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