The Big Debate: Is the Government right to extend protection for householders who confront burglars?

PUBLISHED: 09:59 09 October 2012

Video pictures of Tony Martin speaking during the Channel 4 programme A Very British Murder

Video pictures of Tony Martin speaking during the Channel 4 programme A Very British Murder

Frightened householders who over-react when confronted by burglars will get more protection under Government plans, the new Justice Secretary will announce today.

Chris Grayling plans to change the law to ensure even householders who react in a way that may seem disproportionate in the cold light of day will be protected from prosecution.

It comes after Britain’s most senior judge reinforced the notion that a person’s home is their castle, saying furious householders have the right to get rid of burglars in their homes and are not expected to remain calm when confronted by intruders.

In his first Tory Party conference speech as Justice Secretary, Mr Grayling will also reinforce his tough-justice approach by saying all community sentences should have a punitive element.

“Being confronted by an intruder in your own home is terrifying, and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side,” Mr Grayling will say.

Analysis: Why this issue resonates in Norfolk

The debate will resonate with people in Norfolk because of the case involving farmer Tony Martin.

In 1999 the Norfolk farmer shot two burglars, killing one, after waking to find them ransacking his farm house at Emneth Hungate, near Wisbech.

Petty thief Fred Barras, 16, died and accomplice Brendon Fearon, then 28, was wounded after he opened fire.

Mr Martin was given a life sentence after a jury convicted him of murdering Fred Barras. The judge said the case served as a warning to those tempted to take the law into their own hands. But the sentence was cut to five years and the conviction reduced to manslaughter on appeal, as an outcry raged.

Last month Mr Martin came out in support of a couple who turned a shotgun on intruders in their home.

Speakiing to the EDP he said Andy and Tracey Ferrie should not even have been arrested - let alone held for three days before being told they would not face charges over the incident. The couple were arrested after Mr Ferrie fired a shotgun at masked raiders who smashed their way into their home.

“When they first turn up, you don’t want to shoot anyone or kill anybody,” he said. “When you’ve had several break-ins, you become a different person. You become a lot sharper, you react a lot faster.

“I realised if they’d rushed me, they’d have got me so I went upstairs. Then I thought I can’t stand this any more so I picked up the gun and the rest is history.”

“That is why I am strengthening the current law.

“Householders who act instinctively and honestly in self defence are victims of crime and should be treated that way.

“We need to dispel doubts in this area once and for all, and I am very pleased to be today delivering on the pledge that we made in Opposition.”

The Justice Secretary plans to change the law to ensure that any frightened householder who is confronted by a burglar and uses force that is reasonable in the circumstances but in the cold light of day seems disproportionate will not be guilty of an offence.

Force which is “grossly disproportionate” will still be against the law, but this is a higher bar than the current law which says force must always be proportionate.

But primary legislation will be needed before the changes can come into force and no specific parliamentary time for this has yet been set.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said last month that burglary was an offence against the person, should always be treated seriously, and stressed that householders have the right to use force “to get rid of the burglar”.

He was speaking after Judge Michael Pert QC said that being shot by homeowners was simply a chance that burglars took.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the changes would mean householders “can do anything” to defend themselves if a burglar enters their home as long as it is not “grossly disproportionate”.

“The change in the law is doing a very important thing - it’s really raising the bar and getting rid of all the uncertainty about what would happen if a burglar came into your home and threatened you and your family.

“I think there has been uncertainty about what proportionate means so we are saying you can do anything as long as it is not grossly disproportionate.

“You couldn’t, for instance, stab a burglar if they were unconscious. But really we should be putting the law firmly on the side of the homeowner, the householder, the family and saying, when that burglar crosses that threshold, invades your home, threatens your family, they give up their rights.

“I’m more interested in the rights of the people who want to defend their homes and their properties.”

What do you think of the plans? Leave your comment below or take part in our poll.

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