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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 09:59 GMT
'Self defence change not needed'
Burglar entering house
The current law allows 'reasonable' force to be used
The law does not need to be changed to give householders the right to defend themselves against burglars, the lord chancellor has said.

Lord Falconer was responding to Tory calls for a new law to say residents would only be investigated if they used "grossly disproportionate force".

MP Patrick Mercer is to table a private members bill which could get enough parliamentary time to become law.

But Lord Falconer said the current laws allowed people to defend themselves.

'Extremes only'

The debate comes just days after the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Stevens said people should be able to use "necessary force" against burglars who enter their homes.

Mr Mercer has come top of the ballot for private members' bill so his plans stand the best chance of getting enough time to become law if they win support in Parliament.

The Tory frontbencher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme householders should only be investigated in "extreme circumstances".

Tony Martin outside court
The Tories say the plans would not have affected the Martin case
"The intention is to shift the balance so that the fear of imprisonment or physical harm should lie with he intruder, not the householder," he said.

"Only in the case of grossly disproportionate force being used by the householder should the householder face charge or indeed trial or imprisonment."

Under the plans, no prosecution could be brought against such a person without the leave of the attorney general.

Mr Mercer said his proposals would not have changed the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer jailed for shooting dead a 16-year-old burglar in 1999 as he ran away from the farm.

Unnecessary?

Lord Falconer agreed it was important people knew they could use force to defend themselves but argued no law change was required.

"What we need to do is make people aware that that is the law," he said.

"I am not sure that changing around the legal test is what would make the difference."

Investigations into such cases could not be avoided, he said.

Political correctness?

The plan is being backed by shadow home secretary David Davis, who said people should feel safe in their homes.

He said most people thought it was a sign of "today's politically correct and victim-hostile world" that homeowners could find themselves "in the dock charged with doing the most natural thing in the world - defending their homes and loved ones".

Mr Davis stressed he did not want to bring in an "anything goes" law, such as applies in the US state of Oklahoma, where householders are given an unqualified right to use any force, including deadly force.

Sir John Stevens
I'm not talking about guns but people being allowed to defend themselves
Sir John Stevens

The plan is being backed by shadow home secretary David Davis, who said people should feel safe in their homes.

He said most people thought it was a sign of "today's politically correct and victim-hostile world" that homeowners could find themselves "in the dock charged with doing the most natural thing in the world - defending their homes and loved ones".

Mr Davis stressed he did not want to bring in an "anything goes" law, such as applies in the US state of Oklahoma, where householders are given an unqualified right to use any force, including deadly force.

On Saturday, Met chief Sir John Stevens told the Daily Telegraph householders should be presumed to have acted legally in such situations, even if a burglar dies, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

He told the paper: "My own view is that people should be allowed to use what force is necessary and they should be allowed to do so without any risk of prosecution."

Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced a review of the law on murder intended to clarify issues such as provocation, partial defences, and the interface between murder and manslaughter.

But that is not due to report back for 18 months.





SEE ALSO:
Backbench MPs' law-making chance
02 Dec 04 |  Politics
'Tony Martin law' is blocked
30 Apr 04 |  Politics


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