Ministry of Justice
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New law backs 'have a go' heroes
New laws coming into force today will give homeowners and 'have-a-go-heroes' defending themselves greater confidence, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said today.
The self defence provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 will make clear to the public, prosecutors and the police that those who use reasonable force to protect themselves or others should not be prosecuted. As long as they use no more force than absolutely necessary, people should have confidence that the law will support them, so long as:
* they acted instinctively;
* they feared for their safety or that of others, and acted based on their perception of the threat faced and the scale of that threat;
* they acted to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; and
* the level of force used was not excessive or disproportionate in the circumstances as they viewed them.
Jack Straw said:
"The justice system must not only work on the side of people who do the right thing as good citizens, but also be seen to work on their side. The Government strongly supports the right of law abiding people to defend themselves, their families and their property with reasonable force. This law will help to make sure that that right is upheld and that the criminal justice system is firmly weighted in favour of the victim.
"Dealing with crime is not just the responsibility of the police, courts and prisons; it's the responsibility of all of us. Communities with the lowest crime and the greatest safety are the ones with the most active citizens with a greater sense of shared values, inspired by a sense of belonging and duty to others, who are empowered by the state and are also supported by it - in other words, making a reality of justice.
"These changes in the law will make clear - victims of crime, and those who intervene to prevent crime, should be treated with respect by the justice system. We do not want to encourage vigilantism, but there can be no justice in a system which makes the victim the criminal."
Examples of householders or victims not being prosecuted include:
* Robbery at a newsagent's. One of the two robbers died after being stabbed by the newsagent. The CPS did not prosecute the newsagent but prosecuted the surviving robber who was jailed for six years;
* A householder returned home to find a burglar in his home. There was a struggle during which the burglar hit his head on the driveway and later died. No prosecution of householder who was clearly acting in self-defence;
* Armed robbers threatened a pub landlord and barmaid with extreme violence. The barmaid escaped, fetched her employer's shotgun and shot at least one of the intruders. Barmaid not prosecuted;
* Two burglars entered a house armed with a knife and threatened a woman. Her husband overcame one of the burglars and stabbed him. The burglar died. There was no prosecution of the householder but the remaining burglar was convicted;
* A middle aged female took a baseball bat off a burglar and hit him over the head, fracturing his skull. The burglar made a complaint but the CPS refused to prosecute.
Examples where prosecutions for excessive use of force did result include:
* A man laid in wait for a burglar on commercial premises, caught him, tied him up, beat him, threw him into a pit and set fire to him;
* A number of people trespassed on private land to go night-time fishing. They were approached by a man with a shotgun who threatened to shoot them. They ran away but one of the men was shot in the back with a mass of 40 shotgun pellets;
* A householder lay in wait for a burglar who tried to burgle his shed. The householder shot him in the back.
Other provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act coming into force today include:
* A presumption that if a defendant fails to appear in court, the trial will continue in his or her absence. The Government believes that defendants should not be able to escape justice by failing to appear at trial. The proposal should result in more defendants being tried in their absence where they fail to appear without giving a good reason. The Government hopes that this will encourage defendants to appear at trial.
Notes to editors
1. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act received Royal Assent on 9 May 2008.
2. Provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 coming into force today include:
a. Changes to public protection sentences;
b. Restriction on the power to make a community order to imprisonable offences only;
c. Requirement for pre-sentence reports to be in writing in cases where a court is considering passing a custodial sentence in respect of a person under 18;
d. Bringing parole arrangements for foreign national prisoners liable to deportation sentenced under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 into line with those applicable to 2003 Act prisoners;
e. Fixed term recall;
f. Reduction from 40 to 20 hours the minimum period for an unpaid work requirement that may be imposed for breach of a community order;
g. Change to the test for ordering a retrial where the Court of Appeal allow a prosecution appeal against a terminating ruling;
h. Technical changes to the procedure governing criminal appeals;
i. Restriction on the grounds on which a person charged with an imprisonable summary offence or relevant low-level criminal offence may be refused bail;
j. The legal aid provisions, including allowing the right to representation to be applied for and granted provisionally before the point of charge and allowing HMCS staff processing means tested applications to access HMRC and DWP records for purpose of assessing financial eligibility;
k. Duty on MAPPA authorities to consider disclosure of information about convictions of child sex offenders (Home Office lead);
l. Sex offender notification requirements (Home Office lead - the commencement of section 142 will enable regulations to be made in the autumn imposing additional notification requirements such as the provision of email addresses);
m. (One technical provision (relating to the time limits for bringing before a court persons arrested under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in respect of retrials for serious offences) is being commenced on 15 July to avoid the need for complex transitional provisions.)