Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

Tories pledge more protection for burglar attacks

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling outlines the Tories' view

The Conservatives say they would make it harder for people who tackle burglars to be prosecuted.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said they would review the law and there should be "a higher bar to jump" before householders are sent to prison.

It follows the case of Munir Hussain, who was jailed for beating a man who tied up his family in their home.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show the law was "always kept under review".

Currently, the law allows people to use "reasonable force" to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.

Mr Grayling said he wanted to see whether the bar should be moved so people are only prosecuted in cases where their actions are judged to have been "grossly disproportionate".

'Discretion'

Last week Hussain was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, after he and his brother used a cricket bat to beat one of the intruders who broke into his Buckinghamshire home and threatened his family.

Judge John Reddihough acknowledged that the family had been subjected to a "serious and wicked offence", but said Hussain had carried out a "dreadful, violent attack" on the intruder as he lay defenceless.

We have to be seen to provide greater protection to people who are getting a pretty raw end of the deal when somebody's coming into their home, trying to threaten them
Chris Grayling

Mr Grayling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "concerned like everyone else about the nature of the case" but did not want to comment on what he thought about the case.

"What we need to do is make sure the courts recognise there is a higher bar to jump before we send a householder to prison," he told the BBC.

He denied the Conservatives planned a "licence to kill a burglar", as one newspaper headline suggested.

Reasonable force

But he said: "We have to be seen to provide greater protection to people who are getting a pretty raw end of the deal when somebody's coming into their home, trying to threaten them."

"People don't respond rationally in these circumstances and I think that the bar should be higher than it would be for somebody who's got the time to take a measured judgement," he said.

"The law should be able to reflect that. And there should be a higher bar when it comes to householders protecting their own interests and their own home."

It's a case of what's proportionate and only the judge can make the decision
Alan Johnson

Paul Mendelle, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association told the BBC people could already use "reasonable force" under the law.

A jury would already take into account the emotional stress someone acted under when they discover a burglar in the home, he said, and suggested moving the bar to anything up to "grossly disproportionate" might be too high.

He added: "The statue that we presently have allows the force to be proportionate which I would have thought is what most people would require the force to be."

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said on Sunday it was "impossible not to feel uncomfortable about the [Hussain] case", but the judge had had an "awful lot of discretion".

Alan Johnson on the rights of householders

"It's a case of what's proportionate and only the judge can make the decision," he said.

"There was nothing in this case that constricted or restricted the judge. He did have discretion to come down in favour of householder."

But Mr Johnson said given the amount of public concern, it would be "natural" to look at the law again and ensure it was "absolutely clear" that defending the householder was the "predominant concern".

In the Commons, Conservative backbenchers have twice tried to change the law to allow any force that is not "grossly disproportionate".

Last year Justice Secretary Jack Straw published a clarification saying people would be protected legally if they defended themselves "instinctively", they feared for their own safety or that of others, and the level of force used was not excessive or disproportionate.

He was criticised for doing no more than restate the existing legal position.



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