The defence of necessity is very similar to the defence of duress, however necessity does not always require there to be a ‘threat.’ Necessity is arguably harder to prove than duress, and it is not often raised in court. Generally, it will only be raised where no other defences apply.
You will be able to raise this defence if there is some overbearing factor which causes you to break the law to avoid serious consequences. An example is where an ambulance runs a red light in order to save a patient’s life.
If you wish to raise the defence of necessity, you will have to prove on the balance of probabilities (more than a 50% chance) that:
1. You acted only to avoid serious, irreversible consequences upon yourself or someone you were bound to protect
Like duress, the situation must be serious enough to justify your actions. Usually, this refers to situations where you acted to avoid death or serious injury to yourself or some other person.
2. You honestly and reasonably believed that you were in a ‘situation of immediate peril’
You must genuinely believe that there is some immediate threat or situation which required you to take urgent and instantaneous action to escape the threat or diffuse the situation.
3. Your actions were reasonable and proportionate to the situation
Similarly to the defence of self-defence, your actions have to be reasonable and proportionate to the situation.
This means that you cannot go beyond what is reasonably necessary to escape the situation. For example, where an ambulance runs a red light to save a patient’s life, it would be unreasonable for the driver of the ambulance to drive along a busy footpath and endanger the lives of pedestrians.
If you raise the defence of necessity, the prosecution will then have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no immediate danger posed to you, or that you acted unreasonably in the circumstances.
If your defence is accepted in court, you will be found ‘not guilty.’