Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Straw to change self-defence laws

Burglar entering house
People will have more protection if they tackle burglars

The self-defence laws are to be tightened to give people more confidence if they tackle criminals, the government has said.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced a review of the law at the Labour Party conference in September.

The Conservatives have argued the public is not getting enough support from the law.

People will still have to show that they acted instinctively and the force was not disproportionate.

The measures are designed to give the public greater confidence when challenging burglars or other criminals.

By strengthening the law, ministers want to ensure that people are not put off intervening by fear of getting prosecuted themselves.

You have all of a millisecond to make the judgement about whether to intervene
Jack Straw
Justice Secretary

Jack Straw said: "In the case of a passer-by witnessing a crime in the street for example, or a householder faced with a burglar in his home, we are reassuring them that if they intervene and necessarily use force which is not excessive or disproportionate, the law really is behind them."

The law will clarify existing legislation, although prosecution will be likely if a person is found to have over-reacted.

Public campaign

Campaigners have long argued for a change in the law. They believe people can protect themselves against burglars, but end up in court themselves.

In 2004, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, said people should be able to use "necessary force" against burglars who enter their homes.

The Conservatives took up the cause with the MP Patrick Mercer introducing his own legislation, which failed in 2005.

His colleague Anne McIntosh also tried and failed in the same year. She has broadly welcomed the latest announcement.

"What the government is proposing falls short of what we requested but I do hope there will be room to negotiate.

"This is a hugely important bill that will address the deep concerns the public have over their protection acting in self-defence against burglars and robberies, as well as bringing criminal law in the line with civil law."


Until recently the government refused to support the plans. The then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer argued there was no need for reform.

At the Labour Party conference in September Jack Straw announced a change of policy.

"I intend urgently to review the balance of the law to ensure that those who seek to protect themselves, their loved ones, their homes and other citizens, know that the law really is on their side, that we back those who do their duty."

Mr Straw has himself been a "have-a-go hero" four times.

"I know from personal experience that you have all of a millisecond to make the judgement about whether to intervene."

The changes will be made as amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which is already proceeding through Parliament.

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