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Leagally speaking, when may I act in self defence? What is considered self defence?
Some of the principles applicable to the question posed above are as follows:
You should ascertain if the attack is ongoing or whether the attack is over. It sounds silly, but it is an important issue in court. You can only defend yourself against an attacker during an ongoing/imminent attack. If your attacker has fled the scene of the crime you cannot pursue him and think you are still acting in self-defense. Retaliation is not self-defense. In those circumstances you have become an attacker yourself and would be guilty of an assault. Your defence must also be directed towards the attacker. You cannot defend yourself by assaulting somebody else who never launched an attack on you.
Your actions in defending yourself or your friend/family must further be reasonable in the circumstances and necessary. You cannot shoot a person for slapping you. There has to be reasonable comparison between the attack and the defense. In this regard it should be kept in mind that it is not expected of a person to first ascertain what weapon the attacker is using before you defend yourself. All that is required is that your actions in defending yourself must not exceed boundaries of self-defense. You cannot beat a person to death after he punched you once because in those circumstances you would exceed the boundaries of self-defense. The principle to remember is that if you have the belief that this person would injure you or someone close to you and even possibly kill you as a result of this attack, you may use any and all means to defend myself. More often than not, these tests will not be applied by the investigating officer or the arresting officers at the scene, but the Court who ultimately considers whether boundaries of self-defense were exceeded.
All these requirements have been dealt with in our Courts in numerous matters and our Courts has set guidelines applicable to each and every requirement mentioned herein above. These requirements are not an exhaustive list and there are other requirements as well. This summary merely serves as a very brief discussion on the issue of self defense.
You should always bear in mind that it is simply not worth it to get involved in fights and those repercussions will be severe if the person dies from his injuries. Even though you might be acquitted on the charge of murder, you might ultimately find yourself being convicted of culpable homicide and still going to jail. You should therefore always think twice before getting involved in a fight.
In conclusion: Changing Section 49 of act 51 of 1977 will serve no purpose as the proper application of the common law principles of self defense are more than adequate at present. There is therefore no need for the Justice Department to change the law, rather educate police officers better.
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