Defending the driver
In servicing the public, by necessity bus routes cover some of the toughest districts in Britain. Thanks to modern day developments such as splinter resistant shields, CCTV and mobile telephones, bus drivers are much better protected than ever before.
There are however occasions when they have to take action to prevent a situation from escalating, or in order to protect themselves and a question that is commonly asked of us is, ‘what steps does the law allow a driver to take?’
What the law allows
It has long been established that any person can use reasonable force to defend themselves in circumstances where it is necessary to do so. It is also the case that one can use reasonable force if it is necessary to defend another person. Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 for the first time clarified how the existing law in relation to self-defence should operate. One issue that has perplexed many people in the unhappy position of having to resort to self-defence is how much force they can use. The law has now been clarified to confirm that the reasonableness of the degree of force used will be evaluated taking into account the circumstances as the ‘defender’ genuinely believed them to be. So, even if the person acting in self- defence has made a mistake, even an unreasonable mistake, they will not be committing an offence if they genuinely believed that it was necessary to act in self- defence.
The application of the law is best considered through case studies giving examples of what sadly are quite commonplace scenarios for many in the bus industry.
Case Study 1
Dave, a bus driver, takes on board a passenger who during the journey becomes unruly and approaches another passenger. Whilst waiting at a bus stop Dave hears the unruly passenger make abusive comments to another passenger. Dave takes it upon himself to leave his seat and ask the passenger to either calm down or leave the bus. The unruly passenger then threatens to stab the other passenger but does not brandish a knife. Although no blow has been struck, only words, Dave believes due to the passenger’s behaviour he may carry out his threat and punches him hard knocking him out. Police are called and a search reveals the passenger has no weapon on him. The other passenger tells the Police that he was not unduly concerned by the unruly passenger’s behaviour.
In this case as long as Dave’s belief, that the unruly passenger may have a knife and was about to attack the other passenger, was genuine then he will be unlikely to be prosecuted. The fact the other passenger said that he was unconcerned would be irrelevant, what matters is what Dave thought at the time he struck the blow. Given how dangerous a knife can be he could be justified in knocking the unruly passenger out and given it was one blow it is likely his actions would be seen as reasonable force. It does not matter that it was not Dave that was under threat and that he was acting to defend another person.
It is not always the case that in the heat of the moment one gets it right. It is important to remember that one must act with reasonable force.
Case Study 2
Dennis is driving his bus when some young passengers start ringing the bell constantly. He stops his bus and goes to the rear seats where he believes the culprit is located. He argues with one youth in particular, but then after warning him returns to his seat. Inevitably the bell is rung again and Dennis confronts the culprit again. The culprit stands up and pushes Dennis, but does not follow this up. Dennis, by now exasperated, loses his temper and punches the youth repeatedly forcing him to the floor. The youth suffers cuts and bruises. Dennis calls the Police and is surprised when he is arrested for common assault of the youth.
In this case Dennis has clearly not acted in a proportionate way. He may argue that he had been pushed and therefore assaulted and that he had a right to defend himself but the initial assault was limited to a push and it was not followed up with any further action or any threat. A call by Dennis to the Police at that time would probably have lead to the youth being either prosecuted or cautioned by the Police and Dennis in the clear. There is nothing to suggest that Dennis had a genuine belief in the need to defend himself. Many people believe that the law allows for a ‘he hit me so I hit him’ approach but this is not the case. The golden rule for self-defence to be tenable is that any force used must be reasonable.
It is also essential not to get involved in unnecessary conflict.
Case Study 3
Derek is pulling into the bus stand at the end of his service and passengers queue within the bus waiting to alight. As the passengers alight they thank Derek except for the last one who calls him a ‘fat idiot’ and sprays him with a water pistol. The last passenger then alights from the bus before running off laughing. Derek gives chase and as luck would have it the passenger trips and falls. As he gets up Derek starts pushing him and the passenger then responds until the melee becomes a fight with punches being thrown. Police are called and both are arrested.
In this case it was not necessary for Derek to give chase and assault the passenger. He could perhaps argue that he was attempting a citizen’s arrest but in any event his actions in pushing the passenger are wholly unnecessary and lead to an escalation of the incident. A better course would be to call the Police or if the bus has CCTV to allow the perpetrator to be identified from that coverage.
Drivers face many difficult and some at times dangerous situations. They are working alone and often at night. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to any passenger who misbehaves on their bus. If it is necessary to take physical action the two essential rules to remember are, is it necessary for me to use force and is the force I am using reasonable?
Written by Andrew Banks and Peter Woodhouse of Stone King’s Transport Team. Contact them on [email protected]; [email protected] Efficiency, understanding and communication. This article is for guidance only. The law and practice referred to has been paraphrased or précised and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice.