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Chris Grayling, Self-defence and Politics

Posted: 10/10/2012 12:39

Chris Grayling and the Conservatives are promising to change the law on householders defending themselves against burglars. His argument appears to be based on an assumption that the current law does not support a householder who acts honestly to defend themselves where they think they are in danger from an intruder in their house. This is nonsense - the current law provides lots of protection for a householder acting honestly in self-defence and his proposals will add nothing new and will only add to the confusion.

The current law - as described in the Crown Prosecution Service Guidance on Self Defence allows a householder to use reasonable force, including, if proportionate to the threat - lethal force, in order to defend themselves. The law protects them if they accidently use excessive force and they can still have the protection of the law even if they thought there was a threat to themselves or their family which later turns out to be a mistake - as long as they are acting honestly.

Grayling argues that, "someone who is confronted by a burglar and has reason to fear for their safety, or the safety of their family, and in the heat of the moment uses force that is reasonable in the circumstances but in the cold light of day seems disproportionate they will not be guilty of an offence". The current laws and guidelines already allow for this - a householder will be protected if they acted honestly even if at first glance - in the cold light of day - it looks disproportionate.

This is evidenced by the fact that only seven householders were charged in these circumstances between 1990 and 2005. This is also evidenced by the fact that Vincent Cooke was not prosecuted after he stabbed an intruder at his home to death. Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor for the North West, said: "It is clear to me that Mr Cooke did what he honestly and instinctively believed was necessary to protect himself, his home and his family from intruders." Again it must have been a terrible experience for Mr Cooke but he was not prosecuted which was right. It is also evidenced by the fact that more recently Andy and Tracey Ferry were also cleared over shooting at two burglars on their property.

The courts and the CPS already make great allowances for people who act honestly in self-defence - even if they get this slightly wrong. The Conservatives argue that the concept of 'reasonable force' is unclear and that prosecutions should only be brought where the actions involved were grossly disproportionate. So their argument goes - a householder in great fear and under threat from an intruder in their house will not be able to assess correctly what constitutes 'reasonable force' but they will be able to assess in these dreadful circumstances what constitutes 'grossly disproportionate' - so that they can avoid anything which is 'grossly disproportionate' - what utter nonsense!

Famously, Tony Martin's conviction for shooting a burglar was widely seen by the public as an injustice - another case of a man convicted for defending himself. But the crucial point was that he was convicted because he was found to have shot and killed one of two burglars as they were running away - he was no longer defending himself - he didn't need to at that point! The conviction of Munir Hussain for hitting a burglar with a cricket bat was a similar situation - the person he hit was apparently running away at the time!

Why do people get arrested if they are eventually found innocent? If a burglar or an attacker in the street is killed then the police have to investigate the incident even if in the end it is found to be the result of an innocent person defending themselves. Anyone's death is a serious matter and has to be investigated - even if they were up to no good at the time. Just because someone is arrested it does not mean the police think he or she is guilty - an arrest is common in investigations. It is the final decision as to whether they are charged or not that is the critical thing.

What does Mr Grayling want - does he want police NOT to investigate the violent death of someone? The current law is not easy for people to understand and there may not be a way of making it entirely clear without making completely legal to kill anyone in your house no questions asked. This proposal adds nothing but extra confusion to something already confusing to most people.

 
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