The majority of the public support changing the law to allow people to use whatever force they see fit to defend themselves and their homes against intruders – and most also say causing death is acceptable
In the latest example of a classic legal controversy, landscape gardener Andrew Woodhouse was in late January cleared of GBH for beating a burglar until his legs and arm were broken. While his defence said he acted in lawful self-defence – "one of the men was armed and went to attack him” – the prosecution said the attack was an “unreasonable and unlawful assault… Mr Woodhouse lost his temper and went over the top.”
Although laws announced by the Conservatives in 2012 to give greater legal protection to householders who react with force to intruders came into effect last year, it later emerged they were ‘riddled with loopholes’. A fight cannot take place outside (as did Mr Woodhouse’s), for example, nor can it be to protect oneself or one’s family – only the home.
But a new YouGov survey for the Sunday Times finds that broad majorities of the public – from every demographic – would support a change to the law.
Overall three-quarters (75%) would support changing the law, which currently only permits ‘reasonable’ force, to allow people to use whatever force they see fit to defend themselves and their home against a burglar or intruder. Only 17% oppose.
81% of Conservatives, 70% of Labour voters and 93% of UKIP supporters would support the change, while a smaller majority of Liberal Democrats (59%) say the same.
Presently, as long as the force is reasonable, it can be lawful to act in self-defence against an intruder who dies as a result, though whether it is acceptable is separate matter.
Again, the majority (60%) say it is acceptable to cause death, while only 26% say it is not. Still, supporters of all the main parties agree, though by a smaller margin. 69% of Conservatives, 55% of Labour voters, 53% of Liberal Democrats and 80% of UKIP supporters say it is acceptable for someone defending their home to use force that causes the death of a burglar or intruder.
The strenghtening of legal protection to householders who react with force was dubbed 'bash a burglar' after its announcement at the 2012 Conservative conference. The new laws allow the use of 'disproportionate force', however 'grossly disproportionate force' can still result in prosecution.