What items are legal under UK law to protect yourself?

Can you carry pepper spray? A baseball bat?

If there are no police about how is one supposed to protect themselves from harm?

  • When there are no police, you generally shouldn't go somewhere that you expect harm to occur, and having got there anyway, you should be trying to leave it.
    – user4657
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:44
  • @Nij. What happens if you live out in the countryside and then a mugger drives out in the countryside to rob farmers?
    – zooby
    Aug 19, 2018 at 22:52
  • 1
    The farmers leave the house and call the police. Do you live in Superhero Land where everyone is a Kung Fu expert and close-quarters combat specialist?
    – user4657
    Aug 20, 2018 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits the possession in any public place of any article made or adapted for use to cause injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use. It is a defence to have lawful authority or reasonable excuse for possession. Generally speaking, carrying for the purpose of self defence is not a reasonable excuse (there was a case where the circumstances persuaded the court that the defendant feared an imminent attack).

Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 makes it an offence to possess any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing. That includes pepper spray.

A dye spray is not a firearm because it is not designed to discharge a noxious liquid and generally speaking it is not an offensive weapon because it is not designed to do harm, although it may become an offensive weapon if you possess or use it intending harm.

You may use any article to hand in self defence or defence of others so long as you only use reasonable force and you didn't plan for violence or deliberately go armed with the article.

If you went to the sports shop and purchased a cricket bat or you're going to or coming from playing cricket then you have a reasonable excuse to be carrying a cricket bat. Likewise if you need tools (knives, wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers) in the course of your work (chef, tradesman) or hobby (fishing, DIY) or religious or national costume (kirpan, sgian-dubh) then you have a reasonable excuse to be carrying those. It is not necessarily an offence to use such articles in self defence.

  • 1
    ... but if you tell your mates you have started wearing a sgian-dubh for self-protection (even if you wear it as part of an appropriate national costume), then you are setting yourself up for a conviction for carrying an offensive weapon. Aug 20, 2018 at 10:35
  • @MartinBonner Of course - I don't intend people to understand that they should start wearing national costume to have "reasonable excuse", I was just trying to be comprehensive. Should that paragraph be removed?
    – Lag
    Aug 20, 2018 at 10:42
  • "Should that paragraph be removed?": probably not, but some discussion of the implications of carrying a potential weapon with a good reason and then using it in self defense might be in order.
    – phoog
    Aug 20, 2018 at 16:30

While laws in the UK make it clear that self-defence is legal, there is a clear dichotomy between the theory and the practice. That is, while you have the right to defnd yourself and/or your home, if you use anything that might be classed as an "offensive weapon", then you could be prosecuted for that.

Stories circulate that point up this dichotomy, but the veracity of such stories is difficult to assess. That said, using a "... product which is made or adapted to cause a person injury." could upend a legal argument for self-defence.

Some feel that this is but another example of dithering and gutlessness in the Parliament and the courts as it gives no comfort to those who feel they must be prepared in order to carry out their self-defence. Others will say this is absolutely not to imply that all weapons must be "legalized", but only to say that in weighing up the factors in a self-defence claim, the courts should have the latitude to dismiss the "means" to the end of self-defence if the evidence and common sense warrant.

Unfortunately, at least so far, UK lawmakers seem reluctant to take up a discussion on the clear conflicts present in the current laws.

  • "the veracity of such stories is difficult to assess" - news articles about the cricket bat story can be easily found using the key words "cricket bat brain damage self defence." As there was a Court of Appeal case the details can be found on Bailii using the names of the people involved: bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2010/94.html. The brothers went beyond self defence. The attacker "escaped punishment" due to the brain damage he sustained from the beating inflicted by the brothers. It's not a good example to use as criticism of self defence law.
    – Lag
    Aug 19, 2018 at 20:53
  • "UK lawmakers seem reluctant to take up a discussion on the clear conflicts present in the current laws." - what conflicts?
    – Lag
    Aug 19, 2018 at 20:54
  • 1
    Conflicts between the right to self-defence, and the means to effect that defence. The "means" are generally classed as "offensive weapons", and those are illegal.
    – Seamus
    Aug 19, 2018 at 21:02
  • There's no significant public appetite for more weapons on British streets, so no imperative for legislators to promote it. And, contra the occasional media frenzy and your allegation about what happens "in practice", prosecutions of householders in supposed self defence cases are very rare (last I looked 11 in 15 years) and a fraction if any are convicted, including in circumstances where the attacker or intruder was stabbed, shot or killed. (Incidentally re the cricket bat example, the brothers didn't claim self defence, they originally denied it and claimed a gang of youths did it.)
    – Lag
    Aug 20, 2018 at 6:56
  • @Lag said, "... media frenzy and your allegation about what happens "in practice", prosecutions of householders in supposed self defence cases are very rare". Not sure of your point here except to make as much smoke as possible. By stating it is "very rare", and setting yourself up as the arbiter of all facts, you have confirmed my "allegation"; ergo, it is not an allegation - it is a fact. Rare, or even "very rare" does not mean "never happened". And "public appetite" or no, a dichotomy is still a dichotomy.
    – Seamus
    Aug 20, 2018 at 16:27

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