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In the England and Wales ones right to respond to attacks is limited to what is considered "reasonable force". The CPS sum up with a quote from Palmer v R, [1971] AC 814:

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.

In the case of a fist fight, this is sometimes expressed as if someone punches you, you are allowed to punch them but not allowed to pick up a bottle and hit them with it. However, many fights end up in a grapple on the ground (estimates vary from 42% to 95%). Traditional ways to end a grapple involve causing cerebral hypoxia (chokeholds and strangles) or dislocation (joint locks). These have potentially life changing or life ending consequences, particularly when a submission is impractical. Other techniques such as biting and eye gouging are less likely to be fatal but more likely to cause life changing injuries.

How have court cases interpreted reasonable force in cases where an attacker suffered serious injuries as a result of a fight they initiated ending in a grapple?

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  • I think you need to consider "reasonable force" from the point of view of a passenger at 30,000ft confronted with a violent person with unknown intent. Jul 24 at 20:54
  • I am specifically asking how it has been decided in court. If it is true that a significant number of fights end up on the ground, this must come up quite a lot and so be pretty decided.
    – Rod
    Jul 24 at 21:10
  • "this is sometimes expressed as if someone punches you, you are allowed to punch them but not allowed to pick up a bottle and hit them with it" - this is wrong. It's not a matter of reducing it to a set of rules such as "if he does X then I can do Y". It's what is reasonable, under the circumstances (which are unique to each case), to get yourself out of harms way. Punching back will be inappropriate for example if it's feasible to just run away. Conversely, if hitting back with a bottle is the only way you can protect yourself, then it is reasonable to do so.
    – JBentley
    Aug 25 at 16:46
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The same way it is for every other self-defence case

Whether the force used in a particular case is a matter of fact for the jury to decide, not a matter of law for the judge to dictate. One jury in one case may find that eye-gouging is reasonable, another in a different case may find that it is not. In particular, the jury must decide if the defendant believed their actions were necessary in the circumstances.

In the leading case is Zecevic v DPP (1987) 162 CLR 645 which says:

The question to be asked in the end is quite simple. It is whether the accused believed upon reasonable grounds that it was necessary in self-defence to do what he did. If he had that belief and there were reasonable grounds for it, or if the jury is left in reasonable doubt about the matter, then he is entitled to an acquittal. Stated in this form, the question is one of general application and is not limited to cases of homicide.

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  • The question is what happens in reality when these cases get to court. How does the jury tend to find in these cases?
    – Rod
    Jul 25 at 11:54
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    @Rod each case is different
    – Dale M
    Jul 25 at 21:43
  • But there are only 2 outcomes. Which does it tend to be, or is it about equal?
    – Rod
    Jul 26 at 5:40
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    @Rod: I'd be kind of surprised if there are statistics on that. You'd have to find a way to search all cases, across many jurisdictions, to identify which ones involved "grapples" (and the terminology might vary between them), and then read the decision for each one to see what force was used and what decision was reached. For such a specific type of case, I wouldn't guess that anyone has done it. Aug 23 at 22:14
  • @Rod The problem is not a binary choice as you potrray it. It's not a matter of grapple = conviction, non-grapple = acquittal. The test, as set out in this answer, is whether what you did was reasoanbly necessary for defence. The answer to that question depends entirely on the facts of each case. The fact that a jury convicts someone for grappling in one case has zero bearing on what will happen at the next case.
    – JBentley
    Aug 25 at 16:56

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