Using a truncheon for self-defence in the UK is another one of those subjects that isn’t entirely black and white.
It is very much situation dependent.
Dependent on if your truncheon could be proved to be an offensive weapon in the specific circumstances.
Dependent on your intent and where you were when you used it in self-defence.
If you also read this article in conjunction with our article >>Is It Legal to Carry a Wooden Truncheon in the UK?<<, which discusses when a truncheon might be regarded as an offensive weapon and discusses legitimate reasons you may have one about your person or in your vehicle.
Let’s first take a look at the general law surrounding self-defence in the UK. The Crown Prosecution Service says this:
It is important to ensure that all those acting reasonably and in good faith to defend themselves, their family, their property or in the prevention of crime or the apprehension of offenders are not prosecuted for such action.
They go on to say:
When reviewing cases involving assertions of self-defence or action in the prevention of crime/preservation of property, prosecutors should be aware of the balance to be struck:
- the public interest in promoting a responsible contribution on the part of citizens in preserving law and order; and
- in discouraging vigilantism and the use of violence generally.
There is often a degree of sensitivity to be observed in such cases; this is particularly important when the alleged victim of an offence was himself/herself engaged in criminal activity at the relevant time. For instance, a burglar who claims to have been assaulted by the occupier of the premises concerned.
When considering the sufficiency of the evidence in such cases, a prosecutor must be satisfied there is enough reliable and admissible evidence to rebut the suggestion of self-defence.
So the principle of self-defence being legal is established.
Using a truncheon for self-defence in the UK we need to look at further though.
Moving onto the question of the use of force in self-defence. Here is what the CPS says on that subject:
Self-defence is available as a defence to crimes committed by use of force.
The basic principles of self-defence are set out in Palmer v R,  AC 814; approved in R v McInnes, 55 Cr App R 551:
“It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.”
A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of: –
- defence of another;
- defence of property;
- prevention of crime;
- lawful arrest.
In assessing the reasonableness of the force used, prosecutors should ask two questions:
- was the use of force necessary in the circumstances, i.e. Was there a need for any force at all?; and
- was the force used reasonable in the circumstances?
So along with having a right to defend yourself, you may use reasonable force to do so.
What constitutes reasonable force is ultimately up to a court to decide.
Using a truncheon for self-defence
It becomes more complex when self-defence involves a weapon of some description.
If it’s a weapon already classified as an offensive weapon such as a knife or a gun, or something you bought to use specifically for self-defence, then you may be in hot water and that’s a question for a solicitor.
However, an old-style police truncheon isn’t classed as an offensive weapon per se, unless you are using it (or intend to use it) as one.
If you happen to have it to hand for purposes other than self-defence, then it’s no more an intended weapon than an umbrella, hammer or a table leg you might be repairing. In that case, your defence of having a truncheon must have a ‘reasonable excuse’. A truncheon for self-defence isn’t a reasonable excuse.
Solicitors AFG Law says this on the subject:
The defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ must satisfy a generally reasonable explanation for having the offensive weapon. The following excuses would be construed as ‘reasonable’ – a joiner transporting a hammer to and from the job site, a billhook which was being taken home after allowing a friend to borrow it to clear hedges, a lock knife that was used to open feed bags for horses or a police truncheon which was part of a fancy dress outfit.
In the case of an intruder in the home, the CPS gives this guidance:
In such a case, where the defendant was a householder, the jury was entitled to form the view that the degree of force was either reasonable or unreasonable.
It would often be helpful, for that purpose, for the judge to spell out the kind of circumstances that the jury should consider in determining whether the degree of force used by a householder was reasonable. These might, for example, include the shock of coming upon an intruder, the time of day, the presence of other help, the desire to protect the home and its occupants, the vulnerability of the occupants, particularly children, or the picking up of an object (such as a knife or stick that would lawfully be to hand in the home), the conduct of the intruder at the time (or on any relevant previous occasion if known to the defendant).
The London-based private security company Westminster Security summarises their understanding of current law thus:
How much force is allowed in self-defence?
Basically; the law does not expect that an individual, at the time of a very frightening event such as a burglary, to be able to rationally weigh up the amount of force that should be used to prevent a crime. Instead, a subjective approach is taken, and as long as the individual only does what they honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, then their actions will be regarded as self-defence. This includes the use of an object as a weapon too.
The law is quite grey and open to interpretation on this whole subject. Proof of intent is a factor, and that’s why we have courts.
Could using a truncheon for self-defence in the UK ever be legal?
Let’s imagine two fictional carjacking scenarios to illustrate the point.
You buy a truncheon with the intent of using it as a weapon for self-defence. You put it in your car as a weapon for self-defence. Just in case you ever need it. One day, a hoodie tries to carjack you in the car park of the local Asda. You take out your truncheon and use it to thrash him soundly to prevent the crime.
You may think that a reasonable act of self-defence to prevent a crime. But if you tell the police that story, they would likely prosecute you. In court, you would have no defence.
You buy and sell interesting items of militaria and collectable police items such as truncheons, old police whistles, badges as a hobby. You bought the truncheon recently for £30 and put it in your car to take to a local chap who also collects such stuff to see if he wanted to buy it for £45. You are a simple hobby trader going about your lawful business. You decided to pop into Asda for a pie on the way. In the car park, a hoodie tries to carjack you. A scuffle follows. Scared for your wellbeing and in the heat of the moment, you remember the truncheon you had placed out of sight in the door pocket, scared the hoodie may have a knife, you grab it and bash him with it.
The same act of self-defence preventing the same crime. Tell the police that or a similar [true] story and they may choose not to charge you with anything. If they did recommend prosecution, you would have a defence to present to the court.
As they say on the television programme Law and Order: In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders.
It’s important to remember the police are not lawyers. They’re not judges. The ultimate decisions about what is and isn’t reasonable force, reasonable excuse, proving intent and all the other factors involved are for a court to decide, and a court only. The CPS generally don’t refer a matter to court unless they think they have a good chance of winning.
If you live in the USA or many other countries, carrying a truncheon for self-defence is completely legal.
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