Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP said: “Having your home burgled is a terrible violation of your own personal space. It is an awful experience. It's right and proper that those found guilty of burglary are properly punished for this severe crime and that homeowners are able to protect their property. And that's why Labour strengthened the law on behalf of victims, to allow homeowners to use reasonable force to defend their homes. As the Lord Chief Justice has recently made clear the law allows homeowners great protection.
We’ve seen no details yet of today’s announcement, and we will look at what they come forward with. A year ago they said they had put this issue beyond doubt, so we are far from convinced that this will really make any difference. But we’ll engage on anything they propose”.
Labour’s Law Change
Back in 2008, it was Labour that placed on a statutory footing the rights of victims of burglary to use “reasonable force” to defend their home. This was in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
Tory-led Government confusion
On 21 June 2011, the Prime Minister said “the public have rightly been outraged by some prosecutions of home owners defending their property from criminals. So we’ll put beyond doubt that home owners and small shop keepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted” (http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/pm%E2%80%99s-press-conference-on-sentencing-reforms/).
This was then implemented by Clause 148 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/section/148/enacted) so it’s not clear why twelve months later the Tory-led Government feels there needs to be further legislation.
Self-defence – Expert Opinion
There’s widespread opinion that the current laws on self-defence work well. Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC said that the current proposals “worked very well”. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8432678.stm).
Paul Mendelle QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association said that a change to allow “disproportionate” force would encourage vigilantism. “The law should always encourage people to be reasonable, not unreasonable; to be proportionate, not disproportionate,” he said, adding that the present law worked perfectly well and was well understood by juries and he went on to say “Leave it alone and stop playing politics with the law,” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7000934.ece).
Michael Wolfkind QC, the barrister who acted on behalf of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot dead a burglar, said that permitting householders to use any force which is not “grossly disproportionate”, as the Tories suggest, would amount to “state-sponsored revenge”. Mr Wolkind said there was no need for the law to be changed. “The law already recognises that people react in a certain way in the heat of the moment.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7000934.ece)
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, recently said that the current law on self-defence entitled homeowners to use reasonable force to defend their homeshttp://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/sep/27/burglary-offence-person-senior-judge
The New Statesman blog has an interesting piece today by George Eaton on the law on self-defence which is well worth a read here