Burglary and Self-Defence

The law of self-defence is again in the spotlight following the case of 78-year-old Richard Osborn-Brooks. Mr Osborn-Brooks was briefly investigated after the fatal stabbing of a burglar who entered his property.

So, what are your rights when dealing with an intruder?

There is no ‘right of revenge’ in English law, punishment, following conviction is meted out by the courts.

Can I Defend Myself or my Family From Attack?

You do have the right to use reasonable force to defend yourself. There is a mix of statutory and common law provisions that provide for self-defence.

Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides:

“A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

The government, with much fanfare, enacted section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, to provide for a so-called ‘householder defence’. Also, case law (common law) also defines the scope of this defence.

What does self-defence mean?

The householder is entitled to some latitude as to the degree of force used; if the jury do not regard the degree of force as being completely over the top they need carefully to examine all the circumstances in determining whether the prosecution have proved that the degree of force used was unreasonable.

The kind of circumstances which the jury should consider in determining whether the degree of force used by a householder was reasonable. These might, for example, include the shock of coming upon an intruder, the time of day, the presence of other help, the desire to protect the home and its occupants, the vulnerability of the occupants, particularly children, or the picking up of an object (such as a knife or stick that would lawfully be to hand in the home), the conduct of the intruder at the time (or on any relevant previous occasion if known to the defendant). Each of these might lead to the view that what was done, such as using a knife, which otherwise in a different context might be unreasonable, in the circumstances of a householder coming on an intruder might, in all the circumstances of such a case, be reasonable.

Is this a straightforward law to understand and apply?

No, not really! But it essentially boils down to this – if you do what you genuinely believe to be necessary to defend yourself or others from attack, the law will provide a defence. Your response will not be judged to a nicety, and the case law makes very clear that a degree of latitude will be given, due to the particular circumstances that you would face.

The case of Mr Osborn-Brooks is tentative support for the re balancing of law in this area having worked well.

How we can assist

To discuss any aspect of your case please contact Paula Bristow on 01273 733648