Saturday, December 11, 2004

Be nice to burglars

Belmont Club is generating a huge number of comments with his posting on how the British are advised to deal with burglars (essentially lie down and hope they don't want to kill you).

It's definitely right to clarify the law, but it seems to me that replacing a requirement of the use of proportionate force with a requirement to use force that is not grossly disproportionate only helps a little. What does "grossly disproportionate" mean? If I decide to bash the burglar on the head before he sees me I would say that's OK. But if I kill him in the process? Actually I would argue that this would still be fine (for me at least), but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would view this as grossly disproportionate. In fact I heard Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP who is sponsoring the bill to amend the law on self-defence on Radio 5 recently stating just that. Those who argue that the bill proposed will make little difference in reality are therefore right.

Now I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that a better way of framing the law would be in terms of control. The homeowner should be able to use any force, including lethal force, to get control of the situation. Once they have control however they should be able to use only the minimum force necessary to maintain control until the authorities arrive (some time the following week). This would stop angry homeowners passing the time until the police arrive by beating the thief to a pulp.

Within an hour of putting this post up I came across this letter in the Times.

In 1985, householder Kenneth Noye stabbed to death a detective constable who was an intruder in the grounds of his house. The law on self-defence at that time was virtually identical to the current law. In acquitting him (reports, December 13, 1985) the jury found that his actions were reasonable in the circumstances and therefore lawful.

This does seem to put a different perspective on the whole debate.