Legal protections promised for defence of home


HOMEOWNERS IN England and Wales are to be given greater protection from prosecution if they use violence to defend themselves against burglars under plans announced yesterday.

Under the changes, homeowners will not face charges if they use violence, even if in the cold light of day the violence they inflict upon an intruder is later seen as disproportionate.

The move, announced by British justice secretary Chris Grayling, will come into force, even though a softening of the law in favour of homeowners already in the works has yet to come into force.

“You might well hit out in the heat of the moment, without thinking of anything but protecting your loved ones. And right now you’re still not sure the law is on your side,” he told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. “I think householders acting instinctively and honestly in self-defence are victims, not criminals. They should be treated that way,” he said, to loud cheers.

The issue came to public attention again recently when a couple were questioned for three days after they shot and wounded two men who had broken into their Leicestershire home.

Earlier, Mr Grayling had said that it was “desirable if someone doesn’t end up seriously injured or dead”, but that ultimately homeowners should not have to fear prosecution over taking action.

Prime minister David Cameron said existing laws allowed homeowners to use “reasonable force”, but “no one really knows what that means: you should be able to use any force, as long as it’s not grossly disproportionate.”

However, the Police Federation issued a note of caution, saying there was a danger that people who were on properties lawfully – delivery people, for example – but whose presence surprised a homeowner, could be endangered.

Judges and prosecutors, not police, should be the ones to decide if excessive force had been used once the facts have been properly established, said the federation’s chairman, Paul McKeever. “There are other potential problems that could come out, such as an escalation in the use of weaponry if burglars know that householders are going to be defending themselves more robustly as well,” he said.

Mr Grayling also announced that rapists will be jailed for life under a “two strikes and you’re out” rule for those getting sentences longer than 10 years. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said. “But those who commit the most serious offences cannot be allowed to just go on and on causing harm, distress and injury.”