Regina v Fennell: CACD 1971

A father was accused of assaulting a police constable in order to release his son from custody. He pleaded self defence, saying that he had believed the arrest unlawful.
Held: The defence failed. A defendant seeking to justify an assault, pleading self-defence by reference to his belief must show that the belief was not only honest but also reasonable.
Lord Widgery CJ considered the nature of self defence: ‘It was accepted in the court below that if the arrest had been, in fact, unlawful the appellant would have been justified in using reasonable force to secure the release of his son. This proposition has not been argued before us and we will assume, without deciding it, that it is correct. Mr. Bain referred us to a number of authorities concerned with the use of force in self-defence and pointed out that a sufficient justification was there established if the accused genuinely believed on reasonable grounds that a relative or friend was in imminent danger of injury, even though that belief was based on an honest mistake of fact: R v Chisam (1963) 47 Cr A R 130. Mr. Bain then contended that by a parity of reasoning a father who used force to effect the release of his son from custody was justified in so doing if he honestly believed on reasonable grounds that (contrary to the fact) the arrest was unlawful.
We do not accept that submission. The law jealously scrutinises all claims to justify the use of force and will not readily recognise new ones. Where a person honestly and reasonably believes that he or his child is in imminent danger of injury it would be unjust if he were deprived of the right to use reasonable force by way of defence merely because he had made some genuine mistake of fact. On the other hand, if the child is in police custody and not in immediate danger of injury, there is no urgency of the kind which requires an immediate decision, and a father who forcibly releases a child does so at his peril. If in fact the arrest proves to be lawful, the father’s use of force cannot be justified.’


Lord Widgery CJ


[1971] 1 QB 428


England and Wales


CitedRegina v Chisam CCA 1963
A defendant’s belief founding a plea of self defence must be both honest and reasonable. A sufficient justification was established if the accused genuinely believed on reasonable grounds that a relative or friend was in imminent danger of injury, . .

Cited by:

RejectedBeckford v The Queen PC 15-Jun-1987
(Jamaica) Self defence permits a defendant to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances as he honestly believed them to be. ‘If then a genuine belief, albeit without reasonable grounds, is a defence to rape because it negatives the . .
CitedAshley and Another v Sussex Police CA 27-Jul-2006
The deceased was shot by police officers raiding his flat in 1998. The claimants sought damages for his estate. They had succeeded in claiming damages for false imprisonment, but now appealed dismissal of their claim for damages for assault and . .
CitedSkelton, Regina (on The Application of) v Winchester Crown Court Admn 5-Dec-2017
The Court was asked whether the Crown Court could properly refuse to state a case for the opinion of the divisional court, having convicted a defendant, on her appeal from the magistrates’ court, of an offence of common assault. She was evicted from . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Police

Updated: 14 May 2022; Ref: scu.258671