The government has announced that the law regarding our response to finding a burglar in our home will remain unchanged but that they will embark on an information campaign explaining what the current law entails. Seems to me to be an eminently sensible solution to a non-problem.
The law at present allows you to use reasonable force to tackle an intruder. I’ve always taken this to mean that if a burglar does not attempt to attack you then you’re not allowed to attack them. On the other if they were to, for example, go for you with a knife you’d be allowed to defend yourself using the lowest level of force you consider necessary to prevent them from harming you. In defending myself I imagine that I’d be allowed to attack them with a knife or hit them on the head with a vase like you see in the movies1. Once I’d disarmed them then I wouldn’t then be permitted to smash them into little pieces with an axe. Difficult to judge, of course, when you’re scared shitless but then I further imagine that the law would take your likely state of mind into account.
The Tories want to replace this sensible approach with a law which would allow you to use anything other than grossly disproportionate force. I’ve not been quite sure what they mean by this but, from what I’ve heard some of their number say recently, if the burglar were to merely open the door and try to leave you’d be allowed to beat them over the head with a wooden club with sticky-out nails in order to prevent them doing so.
Now, the only reasons which I can see why you might react in this way would be that you’re angry, you’re scared, you feel violated or you’re trying to protect your property. Most people, of course, wouldn’t react in this way but those who would perhaps shouldn’t be allowed out in public. Emotions such as anger, fear and violation occur in circumstances very different from finding a burglar in your home. Incidents of road rage are in the front of my mind here. That then suggests that the Tories want us to see our property as being more important than another person’s life2.
If I were to be charitable I’d suggest that the Tories simply haven’t thought this through properly. If they had done then they might have come to the same conclusion as the government. The current law is sufficient but needs to be clarified. If, after clarification, the current law appears to be sufficient then why does it need changing?
1 In practice I think I’d be far more likely to either run away or invite them to leave with whatever they already have in their swag bag in order to get to the toilet before I made a mess in my trousers.
2 Scum bag though that person might be.
Posted 12 January 2005, 22:58 GMT