Law lets householders use reasonable force


NEW LAWS which allow homeowners to use reasonable force to defend themselves against intruders have come into effect.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter yesterday announced that the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011 comes into effect from today.

Rural interest groups have been seeking clarity on the laws applying to self-protection in the home since a 2005 court case in which Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally was found innocent of the murder of John “Frog” Ward, who died when Mr Nally shot him while he was trespassing on his farm.

The Irish Farmers’ Association last night welcomed the start of the legislation, saying it would provide an important assurance for homeowners of their rights to protect themselves, their families and their property.

Mr Shatter said yesterday the Act provided clarification on defence of the home.

“It recognises in a very practical manner the special constitutional status of a person’s dwelling and makes it clear that a person may use reasonable force to defend themselves in their home.”

He said the Act allowed for the use of such force as is reasonable in the circumstances to protect people in dwellings from assault, to protect property, to prevent the commission of a crime or to make a lawful arrest.

The new law also extends these protections to the curtilage of the dwelling, and explicitly provides that a person is not under an obligation to retreat from their home when an intruder breaks in.

A person who uses reasonable force cannot be sued for damages by a burglar and will not be guilty of an offence.

Under the Act, householders are entitled to use force such as he/she believes is reasonable for protection.

They may be mistaken as to the circumstances, but if their belief is honestly held, they will enjoy the protection of the Act. It will be up to a court or jury to decide whether the occupier’s belief was honestly held. The legislation does not define what is meant by “reasonable force” but Mr Shatter suggested in the Dáil last month that it meant “that which is necessary and proportionate in the circumstances to the task of protection”.

The Act states that “the use of force shall not exclude the use of force causing death” but the Minister said this was “in no way an encouragement or licence for unwarranted violence” as it was subject to the reasonable force provisions of the legislation.

The force used by a householder must be justified.

“The circumstances are largely a matter for the subjective judgment of the occupier, the force used in response to those circumstances is a matter for the objective judgment of a jury,” Mr Shatter said.