Self-defence law published


New legislation that will allow householders to use lethal force when defending themselves or their properties has been published today.

The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010 allows a homeowner, tenant or visitor to stand their ground when attacked by an intruder and specifically states there is no requirement for the person to retreat.

The Bill also states that reasonable force can result in the death of the intruder in certain circumstances.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said: "I consider that an attack in the home has unique characteristics given the potentially emotive nature of an encounter between an intruder with criminal intent and the occupier wishing to defend his or her home or property and perhaps other family members".

"This Bill is intended to give recognition to the unique circumstances which prevail when an intruder is being confronted in the place we all have a right to feel is a place of safety, that is our own home".

An occupier using justifiable force against an intruder won’t be liable for damages if the attacker subsequently sues in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from such force, he added.

He rejected suggestions the new legislation was a licence to kill, saying any force would be decided by the court whether it was justifiable or not.

Fine Gael's justice spokesman Alan Shatter welcomed the publication of the Bill saying “this fundamental reform in our law has been required for many years”.

However, he said the publication of the Bill after the commencement of the summer recess meant it had no prospect of becoming law until late autumn.

The issue of whether a person could use lethal force in defending his or her home arose in the case of Co Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally, of Funshinaugh Cross, Claremorris, Co Mayo, who shot dead John “Frog” Ward in October 2004 in controversial circumstances.

Mr Nally claimed Mr Ward had come to his farm to rob him, and that he had shot him in self-defence.

He was jailed for six years for manslaughter. He served 11 months of that term before the case was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeal, where he was acquitted after it was accepted he had acted in self-defence.

The case prompted a major public debate about what level of force is reasonable in situations where people act to defend themselves from robbery or attack.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said it will closely study the draft Bill in order to establish whether it is "human rights compliant".