Viewpoint: Chris Grayling’s self-defence plans

The justice secretary has announced that he will allow householders to use ‘disproportionate force’ defending their homes and family members.

Kiron Reid, Law Lecturer from the University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice, said: “To many people, Chris Grayling’s proposal to change the law on self-defence to allow disproportionate force may seem like a political move by the Conservative Party to secure core votes at election time.

“It may strike a similar note to that of the Labour Government, when they moved on its longstanding promise to ban fox hunting when it was facing a General Election defeat. Likewise it implemented much delayed Corporate Manslaughter laws, resisted by big business but popular with its core support, only when the political going got tough.

“In May this year Parliament passed the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which made one minor amendment to the law on self-defence. It was exactly the kind of ‘tinkering’ with the law that the Conservative Party and academic commentators had accused the Labour Government of in 2008.

“A year ago when the Bill was going through Parliament myself and colleague, Sally Goodall, sent a series of suggestions for a rational reform to the law of self-defence to the Minister of Justice in the House of Lords. We were told categorically that the law worked well and the Government had no intention of further changing the Law. That was the view taken by most MPs and peers in the debates in Parliament.

“Perhaps this was because supporters had realised that a grossly disproportionate test was not workable.  Or it may have been that they listened to criticism by Tony Martin’s lawyer or academic criticism that said introducing a different test for householders would confuse the law – exactly as the shopkeeper defence cases a year ago showed.

“The example that Chris Grayling gave, striking a burglar as opposed to stabbing them, was not disproportionate versus grossly disproportionate, but reasonable versus unreasonable.

“I would argue that the law should include triggers, such as those proposed in Ireland, so that lethal force could not be used unless there was a real threat of harm to a person. Our research also proposed that a person who genuinely uses force in self-defence, but uses too much force, should be guilty of manslaughter not murder. It is unfair that this is an ‘all or nothing’ defence.”

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