How far can you go to protect your home?
There is confusion among the public about where the law stands when householders
are forced to defend themselves to protect their property and possessions. The Crown Prosecution Service and Association of Chief Police Officers have issued the following advice.
Does the law protect me?
Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an
arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgements over the
level of force you use in the heat of the moment.
What is ‘reasonable force’?
So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the
heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and
in selfdefence. This is still the case if you use something to hand as a weapon.
As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force
you can lawfully use in self-defence.
Do I have to wait to be attacked?
No, not if you are in your own home and in fear for yourself or others. In those circumstances the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.
What if the intruder dies?
If you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. Indeed, there are several such cases where the householder has not been prosecuted.
However, if, for example.......................
• having knocked someone unconscious, you then decided to further hurt or kill
them to punish them; or.
• you knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or to kill them rather
than involve the police, you would be acting with very excessive and
gratuitous force and could be prosecuted.
What if I chase them as they run off?
This situation is different as you are no longer acting in self-defence and so the same
degree of force may not be reasonable. However, you are still allowed to use
reasonable force to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest. You should
consider your own safety and, for example, whether the police have been called.
A rugby tackle or a single blow would probably be reasonable. Acting out of malice and
revenge with the intent of inflicting punishment through injury or death would not.
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