So the Munir Hussain case has heightened calls for changes in the law for people to defend themselves, particularly by Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary & the Daily Telegraph which has published several articles in the last week.
Currently the law allows an individual to use such reasonable force as is necessary to protect themselves, their family or their property.
The key factor being ‘reasonable‘ force. In the Hussain’s case the court clearly thought the force used was far above reasonable, & they were probably right no matter how distasteful the chap on the Clapham omnibus might find the conviction of a burglary victim.
So what is reasonable? This is not really very clearly defined & ranges from putting your hand on a criminal’s shoulder & saying “you’re staying right there until police arrive”, to shooting someone dead.
The Conservative party want to raise the level of defence a victim defending themselves would have, suggesting that no convictions should be brought unless the level of violence used against an offender was “grossly disproportionate”. They further say that when they come to power they will change the rules which currently see police investigating trivial or malicious complaints so that police would not arrest someone acting in good faith to prevent a crime or apprehend a suspect.
Under their proposals we would also have the freedom to apply common sense when faced with absurd allegations.
If any of this goes through it will see a major change in the way police record & investigate ‘crimes’. National Recording Standards require police to record an offence on the grounds that the ‘victim’ thinks it is a crime rather thanÃ‚Â there being evidence that a crime existed.
The offence of common assault is a prime example. We currently record, & investigate, thousands of assaults which amount to no more than pushing & shoving. Previously we would have said there was no injury, if you’re that concerned take them to civil court. We record threatening & antisocial behaviour for incidents which amount to not much more than bad manners.
But I digress. Back to reasonable force.
There are thoughts that much crime is so prevalent because the offender knows he has just as much protection – some would say more judging by many cases – as the victim. We have the ridiculous situation where some ill-mannered & badly behaved chav can ruin a pensioner’s private peace but when the pensioner remonstrates with the youth & pokes him in the chest, she gets nicked & prosecuted.
How many times do we hear from gutless little teenage scumbags “you can’t do nuffin'”.
What would burglars’ attitudes be if they knew the law would protect the householder who gave them a good kicking or even shot them?
Brendan Fearon, one of the burglars shot by Tony Martin when they broke into his Norfolk farmhouse in 1999 is quoted as having said a bill to protect homeowners from prosecution would have deterred him from breaking in.
It would be interesting to see the burglary stats in countries which permit firearm ownership to see if the thought of being met by an angry victim with a shotgun would deter a would-be burglar.
Switzerland has amongst the highest level of gun ownership in the world; they still have national service & an army based on a militia. All personnel are required to keep their assault rifle or pistol at their homes. Estimates suggest there are 420,000 military assault rifles stored in private homes together with another 320,000 similar weapons & pistols exempted from military service. The total amount of firearms is believed to be up to 3 million in a population of just over 7 million.
I’ve not had the opportunity to investigate Switzerland’s burglary stats, they might make interesting reading.
I’m not convinced that the banning of handguns in the UK has done much more than rob thousands of responsible gun owners of a hobby; as it appears any TV documentary maker is able to get one within about 30 minutes, if their programmes are to be believed. But maybe that’s a debate for another day.
With an election looming & a high probability of a new government, it will be interesting to see how, or even if, this one pans out.