Understanding Reasonable Force – A Review

"Understanding Reasonable Force" is the part of the self defence jigsaw that most people do not own. There are now plenty of books describing the elements of the pre-fight soft skills and more than enough giving their take on the in-fight hard skills. However, the issue of the law as it relates to self defence is often given sparse room. This is in spite of "self defence and the law" being listed on the majority of self defence courses and seminars. Questions relating to this area nearly always crop on these courses as well. I know being a self defence instructor myself and having it lain in my lap many a time, and also seen a few instructors bluster and bully their way through their stock answers. It is around this point, recalling his experience with this question on a course he took co-teaching with a stumped police officer, that Mark Dawes, the author of "Understanding Reasonable Force", begins his book.

It is little surprising the scarcity of information out there regarding reasonable force. There are actually very few people who actually specialize in this field. Mark Dawes is one of these few people and is regularly called upon cases where the use of reasonable force is called into question. Ultimately the answer to the question what constitutes reasonable force is very simple and commonsensical, but at the same time not as black and white as the average person would like to hear.

Matters, as Dawes point out, are not made any easier by the regular reporting in the press of miscarriages of justice where apparent victims of crime have ended up getting prosecuted for defending themselves. Of course, as the author points out, these are the exceptions to the rule and we often don't see the whole story. For example, how many people know the full story of the Tony Martin case? The number of cases whereby individuals have justifiably defended themselves and not been prosecuted easily outweigh the paper-selling examples of bad justice.

As if to reinforce the tabloid myth everyone in the workplace has felt the growing presence of Health and Safety legislation, which seems to tell us how little we are allowed to act a crisis. Dawes shows an acute awareness of this, but by giving anecdotal evidence of his role in a security advisory capacity he turns the whole argument on its head. He looks at well-meaning companies who have advised that their security staff use minimal force when, in fact, this instruction can endanger them. This might be the first book that shows the benefits of Health and Safety mandates.

The whole thrust of Dawes's book is to take a proactive initiative with the laws of the UK, explaining just how much we can do in a violent situation and, to a certain degree, how much the law expects us to do. This covers the whole pre-emptive strike debate and, I feel, pretty much puts it to bed once and for all. It also explains how the law takes in account the emotional state a defending person may be in and the question of "reasonable belief".

Using case after historic case, Dawes provides a handbook that I think most citizens in these "troubled times" could do with having in their possession. When discussing a life and death struggle a good number of instructors like to dismiss any thoughts of the law or the consequences. "It's better to be tried by 12 than carried by six" quotes the coach who has never seen the inside of a courtroom. The truth is that the people who seek out self defence do worry about the law, as for the most part they are law-abiding citizens. This is why they want to learn how to defend themselves in the first place. It not realistic to think that you can simply expect them not to think about the law when they are faced with a violent encounter if it is something they have been conscious of for most of their lives. Furthermore, it is hardly good practice to neglect the post-fight part of self defence training, which is where this book most certainly falls.