David Cameron was on a collision course with the Director of Public Prosecutions last night after the country’s most senior prosecutor rejected Tory demands for householders who confront burglars to be given greater legal protection.
Keir Starmer argued that the current guidelines, which permit people to use “reasonable force” to protect their property, “worked very well”. His comments are bound to lead to tensions with a Conservative government if David Cameron wins next year's general election.
The Tories have insisted the law on self-defence needs to be toughened to ensure homeowners are only prosecuted for “grossly disproportionate” actions against intruders. Their call follows the case of Munir Hussain who was jailed for two-and-a-half years for beating a burglar so severely he was left with brain damage.
But Mr Starmer, the most senior prosecutor in England and Wales, told BBC Radio 4 that he could not see a justification for changing the law to boost householders' rights.
He said: “There are many cases, some involving death, where no prosecutions are brought. We would only ever bring a prosecution where we thought that the degree of force was unreasonable in such a way that the jury would realistically convict. So these are very rare cases and history tells us that the current test works very well.”
Referring to the Hussain prosecution, he said: “What the law doesn’t allow is for individuals, after the event, having pursued someone who may or may not have been an intruder, then to seek some sort of summary justice.”
Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, has said there should be a “higher bar to jump” before law-abiding householders are jailed.
He has promised to review the law to bring it in line with the Republic of Ireland where people can use all but “grossly disproportionate” force. Mr Grayling said that if someone was threatened in their home by a knife-wielding burglar, they "might" be justified in killing him.
Mr Starmer, 47, who said he had acted “utterly independently” in every decision, also defended the Human Rights Act, which the Tories have pledged to repeal and replace with a Bill of Rights.
“I have neither agreed nor disagreed with the government or the opposition on this. My concern is with victims and witnesses and the Human Rights Act has been a very effective instrument in progressing the rights of victims and witnesses. I am anxious that there shouldn't be any halting of that progress.”
Mr Starmer has generally been regarded within the legal establishment of having Left-leaning sympathies.
But in a recent interview he insisted the election of a Tory government would not cause him problems as he was appointed in November 2008 on a five-year fixed contract.
“My relationships with the government are about policy and about law, and to some extent that's a contained area,” he said.Reuse content