Burglars on the back foot: new law gives homeowners right to use lethal force against intruders

 

"An Englishman's home is his castle", or so the saying goes.

However, in 1999, the infamous murder conviction of Norfolk farmer, Tony Martin, following his reaction to a botched burglary of his home shattered this time-honoured belief.

Nine years later came the conviction of High Wycombe millionaire businessman, Munir Hussain, for his response to his home being burgled and his family members being bound, gagged and assaulted.

Both names conjure up images of homeowners who fought back against armed intruders. Both men were victims of burglary, yet both men ended up languishing in prison.

The Martin and Hussain controversies resurfaced at the 2012 Conservative Party conference. The new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, described them as poster cases for a much-needed change in the law - to give homeowners the right to use lethal force against intruders.

Grayling said, "...if you are in your home and you are confronted by an intruder... then if, in the heat of the moment, you use a level of force that - in the cold light of day - might seem disproportionate, the law will be on your side."

"But, if you act in a grossly disproportionate way...if the burglar is out cold on the floor and you then stick a knife into him, that, in my judgement, would be grossly disproportionate."

Liberty, the civil liberties and human rights group, slammed Grayling's proposal as "irresponsible", warning that it could "encourage vigilante execution".

A new law, or a case of 'same old, same old'?

Legal commentators have also pointed out that the new law is fundamentally flawed. Firstly, disproportionate force is already permissible under the current law - provided homeowners act instinctively and in fear for their safety.

Secondly, Martin and Hussain would still be prosecuted under the new law. Both men attacked burglars who were fleeing from their respective homes.

Ultimately, the new law may not change much. However, it could make a difference to the way judges, prosecutors and the police interpret the law.

Homeowners are witnesses, not suspects

Previously, there has been a public outcry whenever a homeowner is prosecuted after their home has been violated, even if they are later acquitted.

If nothing else, the new law may well be a cautionary tale to the police that, when they initially question homeowners about the circumstances of an alleged burglary, they should so do without arresting them first. As Grayling put it, "Someone who defends themselves against an intruder should be interviewed as a witness, not as a potential offender."

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