Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

DPP rejects call for change in self-defence law

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer
Mr Starmer insisted that such prosecutions were "very rare"

A call by the Conservatives to make it harder for people who tackle burglars to be jailed has been rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Keir Starmer said the law "works very well" and prosecutions were brought only if "unreasonable" force was used.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling had said the Tories would review the law so there was "a higher bar to jump" before householders were jailed.

It comes after Munir Hussain was jailed for beating an intruder to his home.

'Licence to kill'

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

In the wake of the Hussain case, Mr Grayling had insisted that the Tories were not promising a "licence to kill a burglar", but said he wanted to see whether the bar should be moved so people were only prosecuted in cases where their actions were judged to have been "grossly disproportionate".

There are many cases, some involving death, where no prosecutions are brought
Keir Starmer
Director of Public Prosecutions

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World At One, Mr Starmer said the Crown Prosecution Service very often did not bring prosecutions where a householder had used force because it was judged that no jury would consider it unreasonable.

He added: "There are many cases, some involving death, where no prosecutions are brought.

"We would only ever bring a prosecution where we thought that the degree of force was unreasonable in such a way that the jury would realistically convict.

"So these are very rare cases and history tells us that the current test works very well."

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

The burglar was left with brain damage.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling outlines the Tories' view

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.

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

In the Commons, Tory 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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