On carnival Friday three young men decided that the best way for them to generate some much needed revenue would be for them to rob an unsuspecting citizen near George V Park in Castries. Unfortunately for them the person who they decided to rob was an armed policeman. The outcome of their foolish decision is well known.
A young man is dead and the masses cheer; “Death to robbers” is the chant. People in society went so far as to call for the death of his accomplices claiming that the officer would have been justified in so doing, acting under the guise of self-defence.
Both our society’s frustration with crime on our small island and the depth of our misunderstanding of the law on self-defence have been brought to the fore following this incident. The three men seem to have been found guilty in the courts of public opinion and all sentenced to death.
We have to ask ourselves as a society, are we prepared to accept a brand of vigilante justice which allows for alleged bandits to be shot in the streets on little more than an allegation of wrongdoing? We must remind ourselves that despite the young man’s alleged actions on the day, he has family members and friends who would like to ensure that he receives justice and that the actions of the person(s) responsible for his death were in accordance with the law.
A homicide is the killing of one human by another. The standard of a civilized society requires that an investigation is conducted whenever a homicide occurs. The purpose of the investigation should be to discover the cause of death of the deceased and the circumstances surrounding his/her death.
A homicide, very generally speaking, is an offence in law and if committed with the intention of killing or causing grievous bodily harm, is known as murder. A homicide which is committed without the intention to cause grievous bodily harm but with some lesser level of culpability, for example negligence or recklessness, can fall into the category of manslaughter.
A homicide may be justified and deemed a lawful act where the perpetrator has acted in self-defence.
Section 34 of the Criminal Code states:
“A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances –
(a) to prevent crime;
(b) to protect himself or herself or another person from injury;
(c) to protect himself or herself or another person (with his or her authority) from trespass to himself or herself or the other person;
(d) to protect from injury or damage his or her property or property belonging to another person with that person’s authority.”
Looking at the section and knowing the facts it is clear that the officer had the authority under law to use force, but the section limits that force to only what is reasonable.
The principles on which the law regarding self-defence are based, are found in the case of Palmer v R  AC 814. In that case the Court said:
1) a person who is attacked is entitled to defend himself;
2) in defending himself a person may do what is reasonably necessary, however;
3) the defence must not be out of proportion to the attack;
4) in a moment of crisis, a person may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his necessary defensive action;
5) in a moment of anguish, a person may do what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary.
Having regard to the principles laid down in the Palmer case, and applying the rudimentary knowledge of self-defence gained therefrom to our incident in George V Park, certain questions naturally arise and they all surround the circumstances of the alleged robbery. The first one which comes to mind is: was the officer under attack? And, if so, was the force applied reasonable? Both of those questions are grounded in fact and can only be determined after listening to the accounts of persons who witnessed the incident. This is sometimes done in an inquest.
Did the officer attempt to arrest the robbers and was reasonable force used?
Under section 30 of our Criminal Code:
(1) A person may –
a. with or without warrant or other legal process, arrest and detain another person whom he or she knows to have committed an indictable offence;
b. if the other person, having notice or knowing that he or she is accused of an indictable offence, avoids arrest by resistance or flight or escapes or endeavours to escape from custody,
use any force which is necessary for the arrest, detention or recapture, and may kill that other person if that other person cannot otherwise be arrested, detained, or retaken by any other means.
This section goes further than section 34 (above) and gives explicit authority to use lethal force if necessary when effecting arrest and only where there is no other option. Again, what is necessary would depend on the circumstances. Without a complete and transparent inquiry into the matter the family and friends of the deceased may not receive closure and may, in exchange, harbour ill will toward the police. An inquiry would also send
the message to the public that the use of force must always be reasonable and necessary.