Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Steady on chaps.

The front page headline of today's Telegraph really bothers me. "You have the right to shoot dead a burglar" This is strong stuff. We should not be encouraged to shoot people dead, unless we are at war, or have no choice.

I was happy with the first two paragraphs. 'Home owners and others acting in self defence were yesterday given the legal right to fight back against burglars and muggers free from fear of prosecution' and 'They will be able to use force against criminals who break into their homes or attack them in the street without worrying that 'heat of the moment' misjudgements could land them in court.' I reckon this is sensible, even if there will inevitably be grey areas where difficult judgements will have to be made.

But the aim of our legal system must be to reduce the level of violence and criminality. I remember the massive support there was for Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter after shooting a burglar. Like many others, my first instinct was to be on Mr Martin's side, but I finished up not being at all sure. I don't think we want burglars who are running away to be killed, and we don't want homeowners to be lying in wait with guns either. The paragraph in today's report which made me think 'Steady on' was 'Home owners would be able to stab or shoot a burglar if confronted or to tackle them and use force to detain them until police arrive. Muggers could be legally punched and beaten in the street, or have their own weapons used against them.' Well yes, within reason.

I don't know whether there has been a significant change in the law, or whether its another Gordon Brown gimmick, using strong language to describe what is already legal anyway. What worries me is reading a front page of a national newspaer which could well lead to a more violent society, rather than the opposite. I know. Its the wimpish side of my politics coming through again. But there we are. That's what I think.


Anonymous said...

In an ideal World, criminal mentality would eradicated, and I don't think that householders should feel that it is up to them to defend themselves, their families and their property. It is the Police and the State that should do that; but if confronted with the threat from a burglar, mugger, vandal etc then they should be able to you all force at their disposal to deal with them; and should NOT have to prove they were in fear of their own life. If someone is breaking into your house to steal your TV, then shooting them dead is fine with me.

Anonymous said...

"... not in the defense of property" and “using a ‘spring gun’ setup to protect an empty property is illegal”. I seem to recall those exemplar cases/phrases from U.S. law school days. Meaning, in the USA it is permissible to use force up to lethal force in the defense of life, e.g., one's life or the life of others in the home. It is not permissible to use lethal force merely to protect property. But be careful, in some states a car/automobile is regarded as an extension of a person’s body – meaning, if someone tries to turn your car over while you are in it might provide reasonable grounds to use lethal force to stop such action. What is “reasonable” is a legal determination, “what would a similar person do in like circumstances”. So if a disabled person is knocked about in a public place the reasonable person would be deemed to be a person with the same disabilities.

Anonymous said...

PS ... "We've been down this street before": this "man in the street" legal stuff is part of Gordon Brown's game plan - to make him look like 'a man of the people' and to put clear water between himself and David Cameron and to give himself cover while he taxes the 'man in the street' to death and then some.

Anonymous said...

True. i don't believe the motive of Brown for ONE moment. It is the same as his drive for 'Britishness'. Its all a smokescreen for his real intention of destroying everything that we hold dear. We have but one course of action.... VOTE HIM OUT!

Glyn Davies said...

Roman - I was with you until the last line. I don't like this talk of 'shooting them dead'. The death penalty for stealing a TV is a bit harsh don't you think - though the Sheriff of Nottingham was reputed to hang people for stealing a loaf of bread I suppose, so its not really a new policy. Because its impossible to know what is in the mind of the person doing the killing, its impossible to form fegislation that will be implemented consistantly.

anon 1 - In my opinion, killing someone would be defensible only if there was a real threat of violence, and even then only if there was no alternative. Otherwise we would be returning to 'gun law'.

anon 2 and Roman 2 - agreed.

Anonymous said...

I would not propose the death penalty for stealing household equipment, but householders should have the confidence thatif an intruder enters their home with criminal intent, they should not have to think twice before using all means to defend themselves. The Death 'penalty' is a punishment only a court of law can legally dispense, I propose that members of the public are not the executioner of a criminal intruder, only the defender of their family and home that may involve lethal force.

Anonymous said...

Roman Jones, Esq.> 'you took the words out of my mouth!'

U a lawyer too? 'Great stuff'

But I am with Glyn on not using lethal force to merely protect property. Sure, if a father or mother comes across a burglar in their own home who gives every indication that they pose a threat to the lives of the family - then it is permissible (in the majority states in the USA) to use force, but in self-defense of life up to and including lethal force without (majority) having to retreat 'in your own home'. Until the law changes in England and Wales (and Scotland separately) it is my understanding (but I am not an English or Scottish lawyer) that there is a duty to retreat (if possible) and one can not use lethal force unless it is the last or only option, again to save life, not property.

Having said that, if someone menancing tries to damage a British nuclear reactor then lethal force might well be the first option, so there are exceptions to the general rule where it can be demonstrated that public interest renders such a response as 'reasonable' in the circumstances, and anyway it could be argued that attempting to damage a nuke poses a grave risk to hundreds if not thousands and ten thousands of lives. Case by case thing I guess, but in the USA it is very rare for a home owner to face a jury trial after shooting a burgular of home invader.

Glyn Davies said...

Roman and anon - I'm not sure how much disagrement there is. Its one of those issues where its impossible to legislate because intent is impossible to quantify.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn: many states in the Union have so legislated, so it's not impossible. A defendant can use reasonable force up to lethal force to protect life, but not property. There's very little house crime in TX because intruders are literally risking their lives. No jury in TX will find against a house owner who shoots someone invading their home. In other words, the homeowner does not have to gauge 'intent' to fire, they just need a reasonable belief that their life or the lives of their family are threatened. Again: 'intent' is irrelevant.

Anyway, there are different forms of ‘intent’, e.g., ‘general intent’ and ‘specific intent’, and ‘intent’ is not an issue for the house owner – I’m pretty certain that not part of the prima facie case against a homeowner who fired and killed a burglar in their own home to protect their family. A defendant who shoots someone in a bank robbery – intent is a requirement, but its general intent which is satisfied by, e.g., the voluntary act of carrying a loaded gun. If someone fires at a crowd intending to hit person A, but hits and kills person B – at least two charges are appropriate: actual murder and attempted murder. The fact that a shooter intended to kill party A and had no specific intent to kill party B is irrelevant – not part of the PFC. The voluntary firing of a loaded gun into a crowd meets the general intent element of the PFC.