The Englishman’s castle in the 21st century

The coalition government’s proposals to change the law to allow occupiers to use greater force to defend their homes constitutes a crude and unnecessary amendment to the law as it currently stands, says Edward Jones

Ed Jones
Ed Jones

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has today announced plans to change the law in order to allow occupiers to use disproportionate force in the defence of their homes from intruders.

However, force that is “grossly disproportionate” will still be against the law. The rather striking – and frankly bizarre – example of where the line is drawn is now said to be that if you knock a burglar unconscious and then stab him, then this will constitute “grossly disproportionate” force.

What the Justice Secretary seems not to appreciate is that the law on self defence that was put on a statutory footing in section 78 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 already provides a large degree of protection in that it states that a person defending him or herself in the heat of the moment may not be able to “weigh to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action” and judges have held that “jeweller’s scales” or “mathematical precision” should not be used to measure reasonable force. A certain amount of leeway towards the disproportionate is therefore already permissible.

Now, it seems that occupiers are being granted a virtual carte blancheto do whatever they feel is necessary in the defence of their homes.

This is a worrying development for an ostensibly civilised system that depends upon its legitimacy on the perception that it reflects rationality and common sense.

For a glimpse as to where this path could lead us, look no further than the US state of Florida’s “stand your ground” laws and the Trayvon Martin case.

Edward Jones is a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen