The 'ratione temporis' elements of self-defence

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Green, James A. (2015)

This article focuses on one particular factor that is of crucial importance to all self-defence actions. It is a factor that is almost always present in the application and appraisal of the right, but one that is not always explicitly engaged with: time. There are various ratione temporis elements underpinning the lawful exercise of the right of self-defence, and questions related to the timing of both an attack being responded to in self-defence and the response itself are notably controversial. The self-defence timeline is therefore charted, and the key legal debates encountered along its trajectory are identified. In particular, there is a focus on three temporal ‘stages’ of the right of self-defence: (i) the much-debated question of preventative forms of self-defence (the ‘before’); (ii) the timeliness of a state's defensive action, or what is sometimes called the need for the response to be ‘immediate’ (the ‘during’); and (iii) the duration of self-defence actions, including the crucial issue of when they must end (the ‘after’). The aim of this article is not to break new substantive ground with regard to these ‘stages’ as such, but is, rather, to draw together the temporal strands of self-defence in a more focused manner than is often the case in the literature.
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