Defending the home
It was determined today that the law on defending the
home against intruders will not change. The Conservatives, the right
wing press and some elements of the Labour Party had been pressing for
the law to be changed.
Currently the way the law stands is that a householder
that is burgled can use "reasonable force" in order to defend
themselves. When the Tories first announced they wanted to change the
definition I thought that perhaps they wanted to change the law so that
householders could use "unreasonable force", I wasn't far off.
There are plenty of myths around this issue, as if
there is a constant stream of prosecutions against little old ladies
who've tried to fend of vicious burglars. The fact is that in the last fifteen
years there have been only eleven prosecutions of householders for
violent offences against those breaking into their homes.
They include Tony Martin, who had already announced at
a public meeting that he would like to kill a Gypsy, having been burgled
a number of times. He then lay in wait with a shotgun over a period of
days, and when eventually he was burgled the burglars fled upon
detection. Tony Martin pursued and killed one of the two and severely
injured another. Martin was not defending himself or his home at the
time of the shootings, he was pursuing the two boys out of revenge, then
claimed this was a justifiable homicide.
Another of these prosecutions is a case where the
householder caught, tied up, tortured and then set fire to the intruder.
This is not reasonable. This is deliberate murder in order to revenge a
break in and clearly disproportionate. In fact those arguing for the law
to be changed have not come up with any case where a householder has
been unfairly convicted in the way they claim is common place. Not one
There are a large number of cases where the Crown
Prosecution Service has not prosecuted householders who have used force,
even where the intruder has died as a result. This list of cases include home
owners who have armed themselves (sometimes with guns) and used force
against unarmed intruders. This is not unreasonable.
For once the government has taken the correct course
in not bowing to pressure from the right and have left the law as it
One problem around having any kind of rational debate
in this country on crime and the law is that there is a strong dose of moral
panic that goes with the discussion in the press. There is a great deal of
exaggeration about the levels of crime and in particular violent crime.
There is a great deal of emphasis on ever more severe punishment of offenders and very
little discussion on how we prevent people developing anti-social
behaviour in the first place.
Is it sensible to send those convicted of crimes to
places where drugs, theft and violence are higher than anywhere else in
society, jail? Is it sensible to criminalise people for committing
certain acts - like smoking cannabis, entering the country or
When large numbers of women are in jail for non
payment of fines should we not be examining whether they should be there
and why are so many women too poor to keep themselves out of jail?
Until the Tories and right take up the cases of these
people wrongly in prison it is not very easy to take their posturing
over fictitious injustices very seriously.