The Long-Awaited Protection for Burgled Homeowners

At long last, the Government has recognised the fact that the vast majority of the population are looking for a much higher level of protection when it comes to confronting intruders during a burglary. Perhaps now we will be less likely to be identified as criminals simply for protecting our loved ones and belongings.

The new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, outlined his plans to provide homeowners who are the victims of burglary with more protection under the law if they injure the intruders in the heat of the moment. He stressed that the current law and test on ‘proportionality’ do not go far enough, leaving most homeowners afraid to use any level of force to protect what is dear to them. In short, most of the population of this country would agree that the law appears to be firmly stacked on the side of the criminal rather than the victim.

It is important to recognise that none of us truly know what we would do if we were confronted by an intruder; further, our reaction would also depend on the circumstances of each case. If you were to confront an armed intruder, for example, it is likely that you might go further to protect your loved ones than if you were to come up against someone who was unarmed.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also stressed that, having been the victim of two burglaries in London himself, the current law in this regard bothers him, and he strongly endorses the proposals for new legislation to be passed through Parliament later in the autumn of 2012. The new laws would see an end to the current proportionality test and would instead state that homeowners have a right to defend themselves and their property so long as they are not ‘grossly disproportionate’. This would mean basically that acts such as stabbing an intruder while he or she is unconscious would still be very much against the law. 

This issue of law first came to the fore (and to the notice of the British public) back in 1999 when Tony Martin was convicted for murder after shooting and killing an intruder who broke in to his Norfolk farm. At first, Mr Martin was jailed for life; after appeal, however, he had this conviction downgraded to manslaughter. Many other cases have cropped up since, but it is extremely interesting to note that between 1990 and 2005, only 11 people have been prosecuted for attacking intruders on either commercial or private premises.1

Of course, there are still a vociferous minority of people who are concerned over the ‘raising of the bar’ when it comes to such laws. The biggest fear in this regard is that some homeowners may resort to vigilantism. Also, we must all agree that there have to be clearly identified parameters set in place in the new legislation. There are some particularly sadistic members of our society, and we must ensure that they are not given a free licence to do as they please. 

All in all, though, having reported on this area of law on a couple of occasions in the past, I feel it really does make a refreshing change that the will of the electorate has been listened to for once. This is a grossly unfair area of the law that required addressing far sooner. 

Quin Hoskins

1 Informal research by the CPS.