Self-defence - the law now and how it might change


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* The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 enshrines the right of people to use “reasonable force” to protect themselves, others or property. Any act of self-defence, for example against a burglar, must be “reasonable in the circumstances” as perceived by the victim.

* Crown Prosecution Service guidance emphasises that homeowners are not expected to make “fine judgments” in the heat of the moment. Acting in a way that you believe is “honestly and instinctively believe is necessary” is the foundation of self-defence and extends to chasing an intruder.

* Use of “something to hand as a weapon” can also be justified depending on the extremity of the circumstances. Prosecutors decided last month that Leicestershire couple Andy and Tracey Ferrie had no case to answer after Mr Ferrie opened fire on two masked burglars with a shotgun he kept in their bedroom.

The future

* Lawyers warn that any law enshrining a principle of disproportionate force to deal with burglars would have to be worded with extreme care, particularly since it could be seen to apply in other areas of the criminal law.

* One area in which it could apply would be to widen the discretion of prosecutors who must currently take a view on the “excessiveness” of any force before bringing charges. The new proposal would render legal force against a burglar that a householder believed to be reasonable at the time but, in the cold light of day, would be seen as excessive. As a result, fewer cases might be put before a jury.

* A new test of “grossly disproportionate” force would also have to be applied. Defenders of the current system point out this does not depart greatly from existing CPS policy which seeks to prosecute when there is evidence of “very excessive and gratuitous force”.