Defining “reasonable force” in practice

After the riots last year, I wrote to the Home Secretary asking what would be a reasonable use of force by a property owner in defence of their own or their neighbours’ property and what constitutes reasonable force by the police in the prevention of crime, both in the circumstances of a riot? 

I said “I hope in Parliament we established that the state’s duty is to protect the law-abiding and their property first and foremost, and that the police do not require the consent of rioters before acting with reasonable force”. 

Even MPs can be kept waiting for months for a reply from officialdom. I finally received an answer from the interestingly-titled Crime Director at the Home Office. He said that, at the Government’s request, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary had conducted a review of police public order tactics and training, which the Government is now considering. 

He also said that a review had taken place and the Government was satisfied that the law on self-defence was more-or-less in the right place. Provided “the homeowner uses force that was reasonable force in the circumstances, and that they believe was reasonable force, they should not be convicted”. 

In October last year the Ministry of Justice announced it would be clarifying “what reasonable force means in practice.” I look forward to that.

Tags: , , ,

Comments & Responses

3 Responses so far.

  1. Kevin T says:

    My problem is with the concept of “reasonable force” rather than the definition. Like most of the public, I’m a civilian, I have no training in how to subdue someone without inflicting permanent damage. I also have no idea how I would react to confronting a burglar or being violently attacked. I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t panic or fly into a rage. My point is I can’t say whether I would overreact or be in any state to judge what was a reasonable reaction. Nor I suspect could most people. If I did overreact and beat a burglar or mugger more severely than a lawyer would think reasonable, am I really morally culpable? Do I deserve a conviction that would impact my life and possibly a jail sentence? I don’t think so.

    I’m not talking here about someone who ties a burglar up and calmly tortures him, which is the example you always get thrown back from liberals – that’s premeditation. I’m talking about someone reacting to the fear and anger coming from being a victim of something they should never have been subjected to. I’m thinking of the father from Bucks who chased down and battered the man who’d held s knife on his children, and the Scottish driver who ran over the knife wielding mugger who was trying to smash his way into his car. Both went to jail, which I find appalling. To me, it shouldn’t be about whether their force was reasonable but whether it was an understandable reaction in the heat of a situation they didn’t cause.

    Our justice system is far too heavily weighted in sympathy towards people who choose a life of crime (why do sentences not increment for repeat offenders?) and against basically decent people who make a mistake, often in circumstances they can’t control. This is a perfect example.

    • Nick Heath says:

      Kevin – the law as it stands takes into account the fact that a person cannot be expected to “weigh to a nicety” the degree of force he uses in self defence. For example if you are being assaulted, but not murdered, and you have an umbrella in your hand, and the only way to defend yourself from imminent attack is to hit the assailant over the head, and you subsequently kill him, that, to my mind, would be acceptable since in the circumstances it is unreasonable to expect someone to weigh to a nicety the degree of force used. Agree with much of your comment though!

  2. Nick Heath says:

    I honestly think that the law on reasonably force is clear and sensible; so long as what you do in the circumstances is reasonable then you are at no risk of prosecution. I don’t think there is any material change in riot situations: if you and your neighbours have a genuine belief that your lives or, more likely, property, are in danger, you can defend yourselves. Even if this means getting a mob together to defend your property, so long as what you do is reasonable to prevent an offence or apprehend an offender, that is fine.