Monday, December 14, 2009

Self Defence Law Against Home Intruders (updated)

The Irish Times reports that the Law Commission is recommending a right to use lethal force in self defence against home intruders. This has also been covered by RTE. Relevant bits from the article:
The draft Bill is appended to a report on Defences in Criminal Law, which will be launched by the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, tonight. Mr Ahern recently told the Dáil that intrusion into a home “should not be tolerated”.
The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 makes clear that reasonable force may be applied by somebody seeking to protect themselves or their family from injury, assault or detention. Force can also be used to protect one’s property from “destruction or damage caused by trespass”.

The piece notes that there is still some confusion: "it is not clear where a citizen stands legally when simply confronting an intruder in his or her home."

The Commission's media release gives some more detail about the proposals:

self-defence should be re-named legitimate defence to underline that: (1) a person is justified in using force against an unlawful attack in certain situations; and (2) the defence applies not just to protect the person themselves but also other people, such as their family, and to protect their home. The defence of legitimate defence should be divided into four key elements: (1) a threshold requirement (only certain types of unlawful attack can justify use of defensive force, especially lethal defensive force); (2) the attack must be immediate; (3) the use of defensive force must be necessary (a person should usually retreat if possible); (4) the defensive force must be proportionate to the unlawful attack.

This is a general requirement for the use of force in self defence. It does not really say much that is radical.

The part receiving media attention pertains to the special provisions for self defence of the home:

The Commission recommends that the general requirements for legitimate defence (self-defence) should apply to defence of the dwelling and its vicinity.
The Commission recommends that the general rule that a person should retreat where possible does not apply where the attack is in the home. The Commission also recommends that, if all the requirements of the defence are met, use of lethal force would be a complete defence to murder and would lead to an acquittal.

This is quite different from the carte blanche to use lethal force as portrayed in the media. I haven't seen the Law Reform Commission's full report yet, but this recommendation is not novel and brings the law in line with several states in the United States. There are plenty of legal hoops to jump through even after these recommendations are implemented and home owners cannot go around shooting intruders with impunity. I'm not terribly sure whether this will do anything to deter home intruders or merely cause an escalation in violence, ultimately causing more harm to home owners. After all, the rational intruder will now come well armed!