Sunday, 6 June 2010

Deja vu all over again on householders and burglars

"We will ensure that people have the protection that they need when they defend themselves against intruders "- Coalition Agreement.

So here we go again. The Observer suggests that Kenneth Clarke has the job of working out what should happen when this staple of opposition populism has to be acted upon in the real world of government.

Householders who confront burglars are to be given greater rights to defend their families and homes. The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, is looking at increasing legal protection for people who use force to fight off intruders.

The government is eager to "ensure that people have the protection they need when they defend themselves against intruders", a ministry of justice source told the Observer.

A prediction: Don't expect "Householders to be given new rights to defend themselves against intruders" to be reflected in law as well as in headlines. There will be no substantive change in the law for householders, albeit no doubt glossed over with some clearer guidance to prosecutors about what the law already is.

For one very solid reason: the current law currently gives strong protection to householders acting in self-defence, surely enough for any reasonable person.

That is why former shadow home secretary Chris Grayling won very few plaudits for his proposal to change the law so as to allow disproportionate force to be used against intruders, as long as it was not "grossly disproportionate", with many right-wing commentators criticising his lack of knowledge of the existing law as he tried to make a rapid and embarassing climbdown.

The Guardian helpfully quoted the current law last December, to provide a perspective so often missing from media and public discussion. Perhaps "Ministry of Justice sources" might again find it a very useful crib:

"what should give him pause for thought, if he only took the time to read it, is the letter of the current law. Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 codifies the traditional common law, and it squarely gives the benefit of the doubt to people defending themselves and their homes.

Self-defence pleas are presumed to be valid until prosecutors prove otherwise. Force can be lawfully deployed in response to real fears, even if these are not borne out in the end, and even if they arise unreasonably. The boundaries of "reasonable" are defined commonsensically. The law is explicit: those called on to defend themselves "may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of necessary action", which is legalise for saying that decent people can lose control in the heat of the moment.

These safeguards are so tough that it is tricky to go beyond them without licensing extra-judicial executions.

With Grayling now safely billetted in a junior ministerial post at the Department of Work and Pensions, one presumes that Lord Chancellor Clarke's retreat, under the cover of a review, will be a more elegant one.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

We should really never give them not even a chance to get into our homes. It's always better to be ready and protected. By the way, all homeowners should also have home protection gadgets, this should include pepper spray or stun gun. Thanks and more power!