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William Hague
"There's a huge body of opinion that believes it should be changed, it's not just me"
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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Hague sticks to his guns

William Hague says he is responding to the outcry
Conservative leader William Hague has defended his call for a change in the law of self defence for those who defend themselves in their own homes saying that the general public were "sick and tired" of lawlessness.

People who are woken in the dead of the night by a noise need to know that the law is on their side

William Hague
Rejecting claims that he was creating populist policy on the hoof in the wake of the jailing of farmer Tony Martin for murder, Mr Hague told the BBC that there was "scope" in the law to redefine the defence of reasonable force.

His defence came after political opponents and lawyers described his call on Wednesday for an overhaul in the law as knee-jerk opportunism, with one police chief branding it the "worst kind of saloon-bar politics".

But in a letter to Thursday's Times newspaper, Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, backed Mr Hague in saying that the law needed to be reviewed while a readers' poll in the Sun newspaper reveals overwhelming opposition to the Martin life sentence.

Mr Hague said that while he had voted in favour of mandatory life sentences for murder when the issue last came before MPs in 1991, he had since changed his mind.

The law had been shown to be unable to protect innocent householders when they were faced with intruders, said Mr Hague.

"I am putting forward a number of options," he said. "We need to change the balance in the law.

"People who are woken in the dead of the night by a noise need to know that the law is on their side."

Change to 'reasonable force'

Commenting on Mr Hague's proposals on Wednesday, Chief Constable of the Northumbria Police Crispian Strachan warned that they could lead to US levels of assault as people take the law into their own hands.

Tony Martin
Tony Martin: Life sentence for murdering a buglar
But Mr Hague denied that he was effectively advocating that people should be armed in their own homes.

"There is a difference in opinion between senior police officers and lawyers," he said. "Yesterday the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said that the law needs to be clarified.

"I am saying that there is scope for the a change in the definition of reasonable force.

"At the moment a person can't use force that they thought was reasonable at the time.

"We could also change the penalty for the use of excessive lethal force so that someone faces manslaughter [instead]."

"This is an entirely reasonable thing. This is not a new opinion that I have arrived at in the last couple of days.

"Something can be done. If this government isn't going to do anything, this opposition certainly is."

Donaldson letter

In his letter to the Times, Lord Donaldson writes that the jailing of Tony Martin for the murder of a burglar illustrated a flaw in the legal system because the judge had been compelled to sentence him to life imprisonment, regardless of mitigating circumstances.

"As the law stands, proof of intention to kill is not an essential ingredient of the crime of murder," he writes. "proof of an intention to cause grievous bodily harm suffices."

Lord Donaldson's comments echo concerns that were reported in the 1989 House of Lords Select Committee on murder and life imprisonment said that a jury should be allowed to differentiate between manslaughter and murder in cases of self defence in the home.

While this would allow judges far greater flexibility in sentencing, the recommendation has yet to be acted upon by any government since.

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27 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Is Hague guilty of populism?
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