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New Law on Self Defence is still a Headache

The law on self defence has perturbed the greatest of legal minds and perplexed juries and defendants alike over the last century. Whilst the myth about the English man’s home being his castle has been well and truly dispelled, a recent change in the law might just get us believing in the fairy tale that we are allowed to feel safe in our own homes.

Clearly if you disturb a burglar just as he is climbing over the garden wall to make good his escape, you’re not likely to attract much sympathy if you shoot him in the back and kill him. In those circumstances, even Rumpole of the Bailey or Kavanagh QC could not construct an argument which highlighted how “reasonably” you were acting, or how you yourself “honestly” felt that you were in mortal danger. The law might be an ass sometimes, but home owners shouldn’t confuse braying legal justice with stubborn street vengeance.

The situation is much different if you awake in the dead of night to find an intruder in your kitchen and you stab him in the heart as he “offers” you violence however. Prior to the change in the law you would have had to show that you were acting “reasonably”. Reasonableness was measured with reference to what you honestly (even if mistakenly) believed. What lovely legal concepts – my head hurts!

Now all you have to show is that the violence was not “grossly disproportionate” in the circumstances. In other words the homeowner may now use “disproportionate” force to defend himself or another person from an intruder on his property. Interestingly, this “heightened protection” for householders does not apply if you are defending property as opposed to persons. No wonder the song writer said “you can take my gold, but not my girl!”

Strangely, despite being touted as a “real” change in the law on self defence, the legislators still use the “old” language of the homeowner doing what he “honestly and instinctively thought was necesary.” Has anyone got an aspirin? My head hurts!

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