Suppose you are walking on a public land and there are no legal restrictions to you doing it.

Suddenly someone appears on your way and says you can't walk here. They are not a law enforcement officer but simply a person who (falsely) believes they have the right to stop you (like they believe they own the land and, on top of that, that they can physically remove you).

You try to make your way anyway, but they physically do not allow it (like obstruct the way and make it impossible for you to pass unless you push them out of the way).

Would you be allowed to use some minimally necessary force to make your way? Like push them out of the way, and if they start to fight, fight back to keep them away? Let's assume force is used carefully e.g. you won't push them down a cliff, won't specifically aim to hurt them etc.

This question is inspired by this article (where a squatter has occupied "abandoned" council-owned land with public walking tracks and claims ownership), but is not tied to that specific case.

Bonus question: what offense does the bully commit?

In case this question seems easy, here is an enhancement: let's assume that you need to go where the bully doesn't let you to, or someone will die (e.g. you are going to render first aid to someone seriously injured).

Answers re any jurisdictions are welcome.

  • In this scenario the walker is first party to physically interact with/touch the other parties? Aug 29, 2021 at 7:13
  • @GeorgeWhite Yes, because otherwise the only option for the walker is to turn back sacrificing the walk, and report the bully to the police later.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 29, 2021 at 7:33

3 Answers 3



New Zealand law on use of force is clear:

“Everyone is justified in using, in the defence of himself or another, such force as, in the circumstances as he believes them to be, it is reasonable to use.” (Section 48 of the Crimes Act 1961.)

This does not allow you to use force to pass by someone who is blocking your passage. The correct response is to call the police and ask them to deal with the obstructor.

  • 4
    @Greendrake I thought you were asking about use of force, not participation in sport or art.
    – Dale M
    Aug 29, 2021 at 11:06
  • 3
    @Greendrake If you want to ask "how is an MMA match not assault", ask it as a separate question. Aug 29, 2021 at 13:02
  • 2
    Yes. Saying "the law is clear" on a question and then quoting law that demands a logical leap is not useful.
    – bdb484
    Aug 29, 2021 at 13:19
  • 2
    @Greendrake I’m really struggling to see how there is any relationship between the use of force to remove someone from your path when walking across the landscape and playing sport.
    – Dale M
    Aug 29, 2021 at 13:23
  • 2
    @JBentley Non-concentual force is generally prohibited. It is called battery and is one of the oldest law principles. Aug 29, 2021 at 21:04

The bully is guilty of unlawful imprisonment in Washington state:

A person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person

Use of force is lawful

Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary

We would benefit from a video of the events, but the verbal description indicates that the walker was about to be injured by some blow (delivered by the bully to prevent the victim's lawful passage and escape from unlawful imprisonment). By pushing the bully to the side, the victim was able to escape, using only slight force as was reasonably necessary. There is no duty to retreat, see State v. Williams, 81 Wn.App. at 744, State v. Allery, 101 Wn.2d 591 "No duty to retreat exists when one is feloniously assaulted in a place where she has a right to be". Of course, that assumes that it is reasonable to think that the bully might injure the victim, which might not be the case if the bully were trussed up and was merely bloviating (which is not how the scenario is set forth). The apprehension of a battery is entirely reasonable, though up to the jury to decide.

  • To clarify, the bully simply stands in the way. There is no way to bypass him (e.g. the walkway is a narrow bridge), or he moves in the way on any attempt to bypass. It's not so much that he might injure the walker (unless the walker gets injured trying to walk through them). Does this change the answer in any way?
    – Greendrake
    Aug 30, 2021 at 1:37
  • I guess “injured” isn’t meant in the medical sense? If I can’t walk where I want to walk and where I’m legally allowed to walk, that’s legally “injured”, right?
    – gnasher729
    Aug 30, 2021 at 9:34

You are missing the concept that two wrongs do not make a right. In your scenario you, essentially, throw the first punch. If you were being restrained by force it would be different.

  • It's not the case that you're totally not being restrained though, is it? Sure you can go, but not where you want/need to. In fact, there is only one direction that you can go — where the bully wants you to. You are, essentially, unlawfully forced to go. I suspect your "first punch" approach well may be clumsy/short-sighted, and there could be legal justification to the use of force minimally necessary to make your way. At least, you would perhaps be allowed to do citizen's arrest on the bully as they're committing an offense (and which one exactly is part of the question you didn't answer).
    – Greendrake
    Aug 30, 2021 at 0:02
  • 1
    I do not think that your suspicion is correct. As for a citizen's arrest, n many jurisdictions this is only available for a felony. Obstruction of a path is probably not a felony. Aug 30, 2021 at 0:09
  • @DavidSiegel My suspicion may well be incorrect, which is why I ask the question. An acceptable answer should explain why it is incorrect leaving no doubts.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 30, 2021 at 0:22
  • @Greendrake Agreed, which is why my comment is not an answer. I cannot at this time give a properly sourced answer. Aug 30, 2021 at 0:32

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