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Private Defence

 Private Defence

The law permits use of reasonable force to protect one's person or property. If the defendant uses the force which is necessary for self-defence, he will not be liable for the harm caused thereby. The use of force is justified only for the purpose of defence. There should be imminent threat to the personal safety or property, e.g., A would not be justified in using force against B, merely because he thinks that B would attack him some day, nor can the force be justified by way of retaliation after the attack is already over. It is also necessary that such force as is absolutely necessary to repel the invasion should be used: thus, "if A strikes B, B cannot justify drawing his sword and cutting off his hand." The force used should not be excessive. What force is necessary depends on the circumstances of each case. "While the law recognizes the right of self-defence, the right to repel force with force, no right is to be abused and the right of self-defence is one which may be easily abused. The force employed must not be out of proportion to the apparent urgency of the occasion." For the protection of property also, the law permits taking of such measures as may be reasonably necessary for the purpose. Fixing of broken pieces of glass or spikes on a wall, or keeping a fierce dog, can be justified but not fixing of spring guns. In Bird v. Holbrook, the defendant had put up spring guns in his garden without fixing any notice about the same and a trespasser was seriously injured by its automatic discharge. It was held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover compensation as the force used here was greater than the occasion demanded. Similarly, in Ramanuja Mudali v. M. Gangan, the defendant, a land owner had laid some live electric wire on his land. The plaintiff while crossing it at 10 p.m. in order to reach his own land, received a shock from the wire and sustained injuries. The defendant had given no visible warning about such wire. He was, therefore, held liable for the injuries caused to the plaintiff. Collins v. Renison is another example of the use of excessive force. In that case, the plaintiff went up a ladder for nailing a board to a wall in the defendant's garden. The defendant threw him off the ladder and when sued for assault, he took the pleas that he had "gently shaken the ladder, which was a low ladder, and gently overturned it, and gently threw the plaintiff, on the ground, thereby doing as little damage as possible to the plaintiff," after the plaintiff refused to come down. It was held that the force used was not justifiable in defence of the possession of land. Sometimes, even shooting a dog may be justified to protect the herd. The Court of Appeal in Creswell v. Sirl, where the defendant shot the plaintiff's dog which was chasing and attacking the defendant's sheep and pigs, laid down the following rules. 

The onus of proof is on the defendant to justify the preventive measure of shooting by showing:

(1) that at the time of shooting, the dog was either actually attacking the animals in question or if it were at large, it would renew the attack; and 

(2) that either there was, in fact, no practical means other than shooting, of stopping the present attack or preventing such renewal; or that the defendant having regard to all the circumstances in which he found himself, acted reasonably in regarding the shooting as necessary.


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